Saturday, May 03, 2008

Lionel Belasco

Lionel Belasco (1881-1967) was a pianist, composer and bandleader from Trinidad, best known for his calypso recordings. He traveled widely in the Caribbean and South America in his youth, absorbing a wide variety of musical influences. He was leading his own band by 1902. He made his first recordings in Trinidad in 1914 and soon after traveled to New York, where he made more recordings and set up a publishing business. He would continue to travel back and forth between New York and Trinidad for the rest of his life.

By the late 1930s, Belasco had learned the Tin Pan Alley music publishing business in Manhattan. Until after World War II, there was no tradition of copyrighting music in Trinidad. Belasco took advantage of this situation and copyrighted many songs in New York, either in his own name or with a partner. He also composed songs and wrote adaptations of traditional material. In 1943 he published a songbook that included a piece called "L'Année Passée." The melody of the song (from a Martiniquean folksong) was the tune used by Lord Invader for his calypso "Rum and Coca Cola." Following the publication of "Rum and Coca-Cola" by Leo Fiest, Inc. and the hit record by the Andrews Sisters, Belasco sued for the copyright to the melody, while Invader sued for the copyright to the words. Both won their cases. (info excerpted from

Lionel Belasco has been called the Scott Joplin of calypso, he was the first person to popularize calypso outside of Trinidad and he recorded more West Indian songs before World War II than any other performer. Some time ago Rounder records released a compilation of some of Belasco's recordings from 1914 - 1933 including some later private recordings from early 1960s. Click on picture below to hear soundclips from the cd.

The music of Lionel Belasco is still being performed, I insert a couple of examples uploaded at YouTube below.

Here is a version of Belasco's "Juliana", by Leonardo Urosa y sus Amigos

Here's a version of Belasco's "Bad Woman" performed by Dennis Pash, Kevin Sanders, Keith Van Winkle & Al Brune



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