Remarks by Fred Mitchell MP – Concert In Honour of the Music Of Freddie Munnings Sr.
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Excellency, Prime Minister, Ladies and Gentlemen
I hope that you have all enjoyed the evening.
I want to thank the Ministers of Tourism and of Culture for working to make this possible.
I am sure that we want to thank Fred Ferguson and the artists for their contributions this evening and taking us down memory lane.
Music was a part of the march to majority rule. It wasn’t just the politicians who led the fight.
There were songs like “Going down Burma Road” which Ronnie Butler immortalized back in 1968 but it was contemporary with the times.
There was “Beware Abaco Bay Street Coming Down, Beware.”
At political meetings and rallies and other occasions, we call on our musicians and artists, often at the last minute. We use their songs, many times without royalties and without paying them for their services to set the mood and the occasion and to mobilize the crowd.
When we want to mobilize people behind an objective, we call on the Junkanoo band to beat the drum because we know that people will follow.
We ask them to sing the national anthem to set the mood and the occasion.
So it is only fitting then that we begin to recognise some of them for the wider contribution which they too made to the struggle for human dignity in this country.
Tonight the three ministers hope and the Government hopes that this will be one of twelve occasions to honour musicians and artists leading up to the 50th anniversary of Majority Rule 10th January 2017.
This month it begins with Freddie Munnings and his songs about the city of Nassau. The city will be 155 years old this year. The songs hark back to an era when Nassau was the premier tourism product, long before there came Paradise Island. Paradise Island became a feature in our tourism in 1962 when the name of Hog Island was officially changed to Paradise Island.
Then it became Nassau and Paradise Island.
The history books record the song John B Sail beginning as a poem in a collection of writings by Carl Sandburg an American who came to Nassau and collected songs and poems from our country and he published the song in 1927.
The young man who sang it tonight had never heard it before he was asked to sing it. It was a staple of the lives of many of us in my generation. He is 22 years old.
History is also telling us that the song is believed to date back to 1645 when a Welshman by the name John Bethel lived in the then colony. They believe that the folk ballad of his crew may have been the genesis of the ballad sloop John B.
But what we know is that in the 1916 edition of Harper’s Magazine Richard Le Gallienne published the verses of the song which he had transcribed.
They say that Blind Blake, the late Alphonso Higgs, recorded a version of the song in 1930.
Then it’s said that a man named Alan Lomax went to Cat Island and recorded a field version of the song by the Cleveland Simmons Group in Old Bight Cat Island in 1935. The song was picked up by the Kingston Trio in and around 1959.
The Freddie Munnings recording is probably 1950s version.
Another story is that the actual ship was a sponger, whose crew was known for being very merry in Port and it was wrecked and sunk at Governors Harbour, Eleuthera about 1900.
It was recorded by the Kingston Trio in the 1950s and a cover was made by the Beach Boys in 1965. It reached Number 3 on the American hit parade for the year 1966.
But history records that it was a Bahamian folk song.
Freddie Munnings was my neighbour where I grew up in Collins Avenue. His Cat and the Fiddle Night Club hosted the Ghana Room convention that saw the leadership of the PLP pass to the next generation from its long serving Chair Sir Henry Taylor, through the work of the National Committee for Positive Action.
He gave his money, his music and talent for the cause.
We honour him tonight. Freddie Munnings obviously loved the city of Nassau which I think is one of the most charming capitals in the entire world. An easy city to walk around. Everyone is haling you and you hail back.
He passed that on to his son Raphael and it should have been no surprise that Ray sang Funky Nassau in his generation, written with his cousin the late Tyrone Fitzgerald also known as Dr. Offf.
We hope next month to honour Sir Sidney Poiter with a retrospective of his films being shown on TV every night for seven nights. He was very pleased to hear it.
We hope as the months go by to honour Blind Blake, George Symonette, Maureen Duvalier and many more.
Next year this time, we hope to climax with a special tribute to Ronnie Butler who immortalized Burma Road in that great song in 1968. The extemporaneous poetry is wonderful.
Who can forget the immortal words:
“We used to go to high mass wearing high top tennis with no socks on and God help you if it rain ‘cause toe jam will kill you.”
Thank you Ladies and Gentlemen
Tomorrow we join Dame Marguerite at the mausoleum of the late Father of the Nation the beloved Sir Lynden Pindling. It is my hope, the sincere hope of all of us that we are near to the point where we subsume the political differences into the recognition that this was the man who led the movement. That is all. Not a PLP or a UBP or an FNM but the Bahamian who led us to Majority Rule.
Thank you for coming.
It is now my pleasure to call upon the Prime Minister to address us.