Thursday, August 21, 2008

Wilmoth Houdini (Frederick Wilmoth Hendricks)

Wilmoth Houdini (Frederick Wilmoth Hendricks)

Often called the "Calypso King of New York," Houdini (1895-1973) was the first calypsonian to have a successful career in the United States. As a young man in Trinidad, he sang in calypso tents and served as a "chantwell" (lead singer) for a Carnival masquerade band called the "African Millionaires." During this period, he worked as a seaman and in 1928 settled in New York. There he began an extensive recording career that would continue through the 1940s. Among his many calypsos were songs that proclaimed his artistic rivalry with calypsonians back in Trinidad, such as Lord Executor and the Roaring Lion.

Houdini performed in a variety of venues in New York. He sang at the 1939 World's Fair, frequently appeared in nightclubs and often organized Caribbean parties in Harlem. He composed calypsos on a wide range of topics. In 1939 Houdini recorded a song called "He Had It Coming." In 1946 Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Jordan released a duet version of the song, under the title of "Stone Cold Dead in the Market," which became and R&B hit. The song brought Houdini new-found fame, and he organized his own calypso festival in New York in 1947.


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