Songs and Dances of the 40s and Early 50s

Songs and Dances of the 40s and Early 50s

by Peter Halder

     When Julius Caesar said the Ides of March are come, Artemidorus the soothsayer replied, yes Caesar but not gone. So the twenty-first century has come but my memories of songs and dances of the 40‘s and early 50’s of the twentieth century have not gone.

During the early to the mid 40’s, the only songs I was familiar with were Hymns sang in Church on Sunday nights and Good Fridays from a red cover Hymn Book. No one on Non Pareil Street, Albouystown had a radio much less, a pick-up or a radiogram. We were fortunate however because after 1945, our home had a Victrola Gramophone and three 33 size records. Two, both sides, could only be played during the Christmas Season because they were Carols : Oh Come All Ye Faithful; Silent Night Holy Night; Once In Royal David’s City and Hark The Herald Angels Sing. The other contained Indian songs on both sides. One I remember was Sohani Raat. The singer was Lata Mungeshkar I think.   

The Gramophone was like a piece of furniture. It was about 4 feet high, wooden, varnished and had a cover. To play it, you had to raise the cover and there was a lever to keep it open.  In the middle was a round turntable with a short silver pole in the centre to place the record. It fitted perfectly in the hole in the record. The first thing one had to do was to crank up the gramophone. There was a handle at the side and you cranked until it was tight. Then you took a steel needle from a small tin, Bird Brand, and fitted it into the bottom of the playing arm. To do that, you had to unloose a small screw at the side of it, place the bottom of the needle in a hole provided and then tighten the screw leaving the pointed top of needle exposed. You then placed the record on the turntable and turned the playing arm slightly to the right and to get the turntable spinning. Then, with some skill and dexterity, you placed the point of the needle into the top groove of the record and lo and behold, music erupted from it.

At the end of World War II, my father bought a third hand used Philco Radio. It could only pick up one station, the local radio station which was then ZFY. Stations VP3BG and VP3MR merged in 1938 into ZFY operating on North Road.  Calypsoes were among the popular songs of the time. One I recall began with a few German words and then continued “Hitler say to bring back the saltfish.” Another I recall was The More They Try To Do Me Bad Is The Better I Live In Trinidad.

A Calypsonian I recall at that time was Lord Caresser. Other songs that were aired were mainly Country and Western which we called cowboy songs.  Some I remember were sung by Gene Autry while playing his guitar. I was only allowed however to listen to radio  from 7.00 p.m. to hear the BBC news and then from 7.15 -7.30 whatever music played. Sometimes it was cowboy songs and music, sometimes the tenor Richard Tauber and sometimes waltzes by Victor Sylvester’s Band. After, it was back to homework and reading. The radio station played only very prim and proper music in those colonial days.

Going to High School in 1949 and sitting next to girls inspired the widening of my horizon to music and dancing because until then I did not know how to dance. I recall one Public Holiday morning, I was only permitted to go to the cinema on a Public Holiday mornings, my friend Carl Agard and I went to the Olympic Cinema on Lombard Street to see Stormy Weather with Lena Horne and also featured Billy Eckstine. One of the short features we saw was a Be Bop musical which included a song “Caledonia, What Makes Your Big Head So Hard.” The “shorts” featured slow Be Bop and fast Be Bop. We did enjoy the song Stormy Weather sung by Lena Horne.

That weekend, Carl and I with a piece of cord tied to a nail in the trunk of a star apple tree in his yard on Henry Street began practicing how to Be Bop from what we saw in the film. That launched my knowledge of songs and dancing.

It was circa 1949 that I became exposed to the Latin American beat which we called then Spanish Music. The first I recall was Mambo Jambo and another was Mambo Number 5 featuring Xavier Cugat. The popular dance for them was the King Sailor and again we learned how to dance it effectively since Carl’s niece Lynette had joined the family and so we had a dancing partner. I recall attending a Party and there was one guy who could only King Sailor to his right but could not do it back to his left. So he used to stop, walk back to his left with his dancing partner and then start to the right again.

Our next adventure into dancing was to the calypso. The  popular calypso at the time were Ah Bernice by Lord Kitchener. We learned to move to the beat with the young lady and then “loose off” and individually gyrate desperately but rhythmically, moving in a circle and with hands in the air or flailing from time to time, sometimes crafting signs and symbols. The girls were more circumspect in their movements while the boys threw circumspect and caution to the wind.

The next adventure into the world of music was the waltz. The problem was learning where and how to hold the young lady with your right hand to guide the dance steps and then how to hold her left hand above the shoulder. There was also one-step, two-step and three-step waltzes and the foxtrot.

A neighbour on Henry Street had a radio so we heard waltzes Saturday nights for 15 minutes by Victor Sylvester and his Orchestra. Carl and I became proficient at the art of dancing the all forms of the waltzes and the foxtrot with Lynette as our partner.

Slow dancing to cowboy songs was another art acquired and soon sentimental songs came into the arena. Among the latter, I recall Don’t Sit Under The Apple Tree and Rum and Coca Cola by the Andrews Sisters.

Having learned the basic steps, doing the tango to Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White and Celito Lindo featuring Perez Prado, were a piece of cake.

In the 1940s there were no juke boxes or string bands. Music was played at Dance Halls by Orchestras. I recall the Syncopators and the Washboards. And there were no singers that sang with the Orchestras. It was pure and adulterated music to dance to. And if you took a young lady or met one there and did not display your dancing skills, you would lose out to the young man who did.

What I learned from the 40’s and early 50’s tuned me in to all types of music and dancing that flowed in the late 50’s to now…the Rock and Roll, the Locomotive, the Mash Potato, the Twist,  the Ska, the Reggae, the Strongman Dance, the Limbo and the songs that accompanied them and many many more. And my teenage group and I flashed our skills in the art of Terpsichore at Birthday Parties, $2 sub-parties, Dance Halls like RAF, Haley’s, Over The Laundry, Washington Hall at Wellington and Charlotte Streets, Night Clubs in Georgetown, on the East Coast at Linden and Up-river, New Amsterdam, Corriverton, Lethem, Anna Regina, Bartica and all over the world.

But it was the pop songs that were the most desired at dancing events like the Tennesee Waltz, My Jealous Eyes, The Great Pretender, The Duke of Earl and all the great songs of the Rock and Roll Era and beyond. That was so because the song and slow music enabled you to hold your partner close, the closer the better.

Songs and dancing were not only art forms in the good old days. They were also avenues for meeting the opposite gender which often led to friendships, relationships and even marriage.


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  • Rosaliene Bacchus  On July 28, 2013 at 6:46 pm

    My father had a large collection of 45 and 75 rpm records that included many of the hits mentioned in your article. His record collection was his treasure. His music seemed to calm his spirit. Not only did I grow up learning to appreciate his musical selections, but I also learned to dance by following his dance steps with my tiny three-year-old feet planted on top of his.

  • John Harricharan  On July 28, 2013 at 7:24 pm

    Wonderful commentary that leaves me soggy with nostalgia. Thanks, Peter.

  • Bishnu  On July 28, 2013 at 7:27 pm

    Mohammed rafi sang suhani raat.

  • Dennis Lord  On July 28, 2013 at 8:39 pm

    Enjoyed reading this very much; was my time and memories too. Thanks!

  • Deen  On July 28, 2013 at 9:53 pm

    Peter, I always amazed at you detailed recollections after so many years.
    Thanks for sharing the joy of another nostalgic article.

  • Peter Halder  On July 28, 2013 at 10:24 pm

    It was a pleasure.

  • sgrft12  On July 29, 2013 at 4:55 pm

    I too am always amazed at your detailed recollection Peter. It brings back so many memories. Thanks once again for sharing. Cheryl Pieters Chookang.

  • Dmitri Allicock  On July 29, 2013 at 9:03 pm

    Never give a sword to a man who can’t dance-
    Wonderful memories and bless you for sharing!

  • Peter Halder  On July 30, 2013 at 10:05 pm

    You’re welcome.

  • Barbara  On August 21, 2013 at 4:51 am

    You have brought back many beautiful memories

  • Eileen  On January 5, 2016 at 9:26 pm

    Great writing….brought back fond memories..we too had a very large collection of 40s and 50s records because my brothers and I loved music…we would put on 10 records on the one time, then would dance among ourselves for hours every Friday afternoon, of course our friends would pop in and stay for hours. WE were versed in all dances …my uncles and my dad were good dancers..except for jazz that I had to learn from a stranger… you stated “It was a way for us to meet the opposite gender,” those were the days my friend I thought would never end”… and that is a song too….keep writing these good articles…people love to read them It. causes a warm feeling straight from the heart .thanks

  • Eileen  On January 5, 2016 at 9:35 pm

    well written article…brought back good memories of Linden, my home town. we had weekly teenage parties .we would go to a different home on Saturday of every week to just play or listen and dance to those records.Innocent fun , no alcohol was allowed…….keep writing the audience for it is out there…thanks

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