Have I mentioned that I love musicals? ‘Cause it turns out I do, but that’s not the point of this post. Lately I’ve been on a bit of a musical watching “bender.” I saw one the other night from 1957 called “Bop Girl Goes Calypso” because, with a title like that, you really gotta watch. It was terrible (surprise surprise) but that’s not the point of this post either. It starred Bobby Troup and Judy Tyler who, later that year, went on to star with Elvis in the movie “Jailhouse Rock.” Judy Tyler tragically died in a car accident, shortly after filming “Jailhouse Rock” so RIP Judy but that’s also not the point of this post. The point is another act featured in the movie, a gentleman called Lord Flea and his band The Calypsonians.
Lord Flea was born in Kingston, Jamaica in 1932. His parents named him Norman Thomas. He studied at the Jamaican Music conservatory and began performing in night clubs in Jamaica when he was a teenager. He moved to Florida in 1950 and became an international sensation. Even though the music he played is actually called Mento, which is traditional Jamaican, music it was marketed as Calypso, which is music native to Trinidad. It was Lord Flea who ushered in the mainstream music “Calypso” Craze of the 1950’s. He signed with Capitol Records but he was only able to record one album before he died of Hodgkin’s Disease in 1959. He was 27. Here he is in a clip from “Bop Girl Goes Calypso” singing the song “Be Bop Calypso.” It wasn’t his biggest hit but I like it. This is Lord Flea singing but it isn’t the original audio from the film.
“Bop Girl…” would have been much better if they’d eliminated the whole stupid “Rock and Roll is dead and Calypso is king” plot and just filmed a musical review of hot 50s night club acts. There were some talented performers and some great novelty acts including one band that performed their entire number laying in coffins and one band whose musicians performed their solos while swinging upside down on a trapeze! No reflection on Lord Flea who performed some fantastic (not) Calypso numbers but they were never going to beat rock. They could never put a Mento/Calypso band up on trapezes. One slip of the steel drum could take out half an audience!