We recently heard the sad news that Harry Belafonte had died. It brought back memories of my mum and dad in the 1950s listening to the radio and playing their ’78s’ and ‘LPs’ as they were known then. Harry Belafonte was a big favourite. He was an American singer, actor and activist, who popularised calypso music with international audiences in the 1950s. Whilst primarily known for calypso, Belafonte recorded in many different genres, including blues, folk, gospel and American standards. The two songs I remember hearing most are ‘Island in the Sun’ and ‘Day-O’ (aka The Banana Boat Song). At Christmas time particularly I loved the songs ‘Scarlet Ribbons’ and ‘Mary’s Boy-Child’.
Harry Belafonte (Born: 1 March 1927 Died: 25 April 2023) as he would have looked when my mum and dad played his records.
Here are some of the other songs and artists I remember hearing at home – before I and my siblings started listening to our own 1960s pop music.
Lonnie Donegan was a ‘Skiffle’ player and singer. Skiffle was a style of music played on rudimentary instruments, first popularized in the United States in the 1920s but revived by British musicians in the mid-1950s. The songs I remember best are ‘My Old Man’s a Dustman’ which reached No 1 in the UK in 1960, and ‘Putting on the Style’ (1956) which my mum and dad particularly liked.
Lonnie Donegan. 1931 – 2002.
The Platters are an American vocal group formed in 1952. They are one of the most successful vocal groups of the early rock and roll era. Whilst looking them up for this post I found out that they still exist, albeit with a different line-up. Two songs I particularly loved – and still do – are ‘The Great Pretender’ (1955) ‘Only You’ (1956).
The Platters. 1952–present.
Mum and Dad had an album called ‘An Evening Wasted With Tom Lehrer’. They played it a lot so I was really familiar with it. Listening to the songs now I realise that the meanings of the lyrics were completely over my head! Even so, the songs are part of my childhood memories. In particular ‘Clementine’, ‘We Will All Go Together When We Go’ and ‘Be Prepared’.
Tom Lehrer was originally a mathematician and then became a musician and satirist. He is now 95.
My parents also listened to classical music and I used to really love hearing Mario Lanza singing ‘Drink, Drink, Drink’ (from The Student Prince).
Mario Lanza 1921 – 1959.
The song ‘Blow The Wind Southerly’ sung by Kathleen Ferrier was often on the radio and enjoyed by my parents. Looking it up when writing this I’ve learned that it is originally a traditional folk song from Northumberland.
Kathleen Ferrier. 1912 – 1953.
Two unusual records my mum particularly liked were Bob Newhart’s ‘Introducing Tobacco To Civilisation’ sketch and, later in the 1960s, ‘Ode to Billie Joe’ 1967 by Bobby Gentry.
They also had an album of Sea Shanties, one by the Sons of the Pioneers and many more which I can’t recall now – as well as the Welsh singing which my dad loved so much and listened to until the end of his days.
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