Sunday, November 16, 2008

Lord Invader [Rupert Westmore Grant]

Lord Invader (born 1915 as Rupert Westmore Grant in San Fernando, Trinidad; ; † 15. October 1961 in New York) was a prominent calypsonian with a very distinctive, gravelly voice.

Though Lord Invader (1914-1961) is best remembered as the composer of "Rum and Coca Cola," he was a calypsonian with a wide-ranging career. He began singing in the calypso tents of Port of Spain, Trinidad, in 1937. That same year the U.S.-based Bluebird Records selected him for a recording session in Trinidad. In 1939 he recorded one of his best-known calypsos, "Don't Stop the Carnival," which was later reinterpreted by Harry Belafonte. Invader was active in the tents in Trinidad through the 1940s and into the 1950s. After the war, however, he spent a substantial amount of time in New York, pursuing a royalties lawsuit as the author of the lyrics of "Rum and Coca Cola," which was a hit record for the Andrews Sisters. He finally received a settlement in 1955.

During the 1940s, Invader sang in nightclubs in New York and, in 1946, appeared in folklorist Alan Lomax's Calypso at Midnight concert at Town Hall. The previous year he sang "Yankee Dollar in Trinidad" in the movie House Rent Party. Meanwhile, he established a relationship with Moe Asch of Disc/Folkways Records and continued to record with him for many years. In 1956 he traveled to England, where he appeared on the BBC and recorded for British labels, before touring Holland, Belgium and Germany. Eventually, he returned to the U.S. and recorded a couple more albums for Folkways. Invader died in New York at age 47. 
Rupert Grant, from San Fernando in Trinidad, was given his nom-de-calypso by his tailor - "I tell you, Rupert, you should call yourself Lord Invader so when you go up to the city you be invadin’ the capital."  In February 1937, Invader made his first recordings, having successfully penetrated the highly competitive calypso scene in Port-of-Spain at the age of 22. There was already a lively calypso scene in New York, with musicians like Gerald Clark and Gregory Felix backing the likes of Macbeth the Great and the Duke of Iron Among his other activities during this sojourn in the States, Invader recorded for Moses Asch’s Disc label.  Ultimately successful in his lawsuit, although he didn’t see the money for another seven years, Invader returned to Trinidad until 1945, when he went to Britain, in the footsteps of Lord Beginner, Lord Kitchener, and other calypsonians.  He made some appearances in Europe (which inspired My Experience on the Reeperbahn and Auf Wiedersehen) before returning to New York late in 1958, and recording again for Asch.  He died in Queens in 1961.

Born Rupert Westmore Grant in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad, on December 13, 1914, Grant grew up around San Fernando and began improvising calypsos at a young age. Labeled a "country boy" by his fellow Trinidadians, Grant had great aspirations.The many carnivals and parades in Port-of-Spain gave the city its prominent position in the calypso music world. Calypso music was developed in parades as competing bands strived to gain popular acclaim. Bands obtained lead singers, known as chantwells, to invoke call and response songs and increase audience participation.These chantwells eventually broke away from the bands, forming competing groups of calypso singers.

Bands themselves then lost their prominent role in calypso music and only served to accompany the singers. Lyrics in calypso music are often topical in nature, and singers improvise stanzas to denounce their competitors.
It is this calypso scene that Grant encountered when he reached Port-of-Spain. His grating voice, biting lyrics, and carefree melodies helped Grant build his reputation as one of the best calypso artists in Trinidad. He brought his talents to many calypso competitions (including the first Calypso King competition) and recorded for RCA Bluebird. Enticed by Decca Records, Grant traveled to New York City in 1941 with other calypsonians to make records and promote calypso music. This invasion contributed to the growing popularity of calypso in the United States.
Upon returning to Trinidad the next year, Grant was met with a new scene. Several US military bases had been built as part of the Lend-Lease agreement with Britain. The influx of Americans provided calypsonians with a broader market for their music. On October 15, 1961, Grant died at Brooklyn hospital following a short illness and after undergoing two operations. His lifelong devotion to his craft made him one of the greatest calypso artists of all time.


yoyo said...
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David Horgan said...

More biographical information, song samples, and DRM-Free downloads are available from Smithsonian Folkways: