Notes from a small island
A weblog by Jonathan Ali

Monday, January 16, 2006  

I'm going through a bit of a Billie Holiday phase at the moment (The Ultimate Billie Holiday and Billie's Best have been trading places in my cd player; if anyone's feeling generous, my birthday's in March) so two articles in the local Sunday papers were of particular interest.

The first was Lennox Grant's column in the Guardian. Grant saw an old tv interview recently, featuring a number of our leading calypsonians, including the two greatest, the Mighty Sparrow and the deceased Lord Kitchener:

Sparrow told the interviewer that among his own Kitchener favourites is the song with the chorus, “Mama have, Papa have ... Blessed be the child that have his own shilling.”

I had always thought that theme plagiarised jazz singer Billie Holiday’s 1939 “God Bless the Child”: “Your Mama may have ... Your Papa may have ...”.

I saw the same documentary myself some years ago, before I had any serious knowledge of Billie Holiday's music. Thus I didn't know that the Kitchener tune in question was plagiarising Lady Day. More to the point, neither did Sparrow (it would seem), and Kitchener said nothing in the interview to set the matter straight.

Now as anyone with a passing acquaintance of Kitchener knows, he was a prodigious songwriter, having written over 700 songs (by his reckoning); forgetting old songs to write new ones. He was constantly composing, and stuff of the highest quality by and large. So to think that the Grandmaster would plagiarise (or, being charitable, cover) someone's work--and so brazenly, something as popular as a major Billie Holiday hit--without giving credit, does give one pause for thought. Whether it will make me revise my opinion of Kitchener as the best calypsonian ever, however, is another matter.

The other article was a review of Jill Scott's performance at the Barbados Jazz Festival last week by Michael Mondezie, in the Sunday Express Mix magazine (no link; the Mix isn't updated regularly). Mr. Mondezie was good enough to mention that Ms. Scott performed a cover of "Good Morning, Heartache", but it would seem that he and his editors aren't aware that the first name of the greatest jazz singer of all time isn't Billy, but Billie. Puts me in mind of a bit of dialogue from that sparkling mid-90s Alicia Silverstone vehicle, Clueless:

"Do you like Billie Holiday?"
"I love him!"

posted by Jonathan | 3:34 PM 0 comments


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