This is the story of an exciting discovery. The very first recorded examples of calypso music. When researching aspects of the history of the Caribbean, American ethnologist Dick Spottswood unexpectedly uncovered an unknown musical treasure. From the depth of a library he fished out several flat cardboard boxes containing matrixes. The accompanying note said the recordings were made by a 12-piece jazz orchestra from Trinidad in 1912: Lovey's Trinidad String Band.
Who were these musicians We do not know much about them, and the internet doesn't either. It is known, though that in May 1912 the dance band embarked on a tour to the United States of America as reported by the 'Port-of-Spain Gazette' a couple of days before their departure. The ensemble had been founded by violinist Lovey (real name: George R. Baillie) during the last decade of the 19th century. So by 1912 they were by no means unknown in their home country.
We can't say for certain which cities, festivals and ballrooms the Trinidad instrumentalists visited in the U.S.A. But this is clear: they stayed in New York City from late June into July 1912 where they recorded several songs of South American rhythms, first in the studio of the Victor Talking Machine Company, then at the Columbia Phonograph Company. In doing so, George R. Baillie and his men made musical history; they were the first to bring the sound of Calypso onto records.
Recording technology back then was in its infancy and scratches and noise were common. So it's amazing that the sound of these old, uniquely important recordings is actually pretty clear. They sound no worse than recordings from the '40s or '50s, says Richard Weize who has restored and issued many Calypso pearls from the early days of shellac records on his Bear Family Records label. For the restoration of these historic recordings he couldn't have secured the services of a better man than mastering expert Chris Zwarg from True Sound.
These completely restored masters should be of special relevance for the state of Trinidad and Tobago. Fifty years ago, in the summer of 1962, the islands finally became independent from Great Britain. The people celebrated carnival for a week, remembering and celebrating their own identity. Half a century earlier, Lovey's Original Trinidad String Band had played a substantial role in developing and promoting the identity of the people of Trinidad and Tobago.