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The Great Duke Errol (and His Lords)

John on June 6, 2009 at 7:00 pm

In 1954 Errol Strachan (pronounced Strawn) was running a successful taxi business ferrying tourists around Nassau, Bahamas. Errol, unlike his twelve siblings, had always loved music. So when a local nightclub called the Cat ‘n Fiddle held an amateur singing contest, Errol entered. Winning first prize in the contest piqued his interest in entertainment as a possible career. He and his cousin “King Eric” formed a Calypso band and got a gig at a club called the Blue Rest. 

Then in 1956, Harry Belafonte release his landmark album Calypso, which introduced the music to a mass audience in the United States. It was a smash hit, the first full length album to sell one million copies. Belafonte was dubbed the “King” of Calypso, though he was really just a popularizer. To this day he is known for his version of the Banana Boat Song.

Eventually, in 1959, Errol formed his own band “The Errol Strachan Quintet.” But it wasn’t long before Errol and his were re-named Duke Errol and his Lords. He was a success and had jobs in a series of fine hotels. He eventually landed the coveted gig of house calypso band at the Sheraton British Colonial. He held the job for seven years from 1963 to 1970.

Over his career he recorded five albums and did some touring in the US. None of his records are available on CD or on iTunes, though the albums can still be found on eBay. It’s a shame they aren’t more widely available, because Duke Errol was a tremendous talent and undoubtedly a better Calypso singer than the better known Harry Belafonte.

Below are just a few sample songs. If you’re not familiar with calypso at all, it’s a genre known for its dry sarcasm and humor as much as for its rhythms.  It’s also known for a somewhat bawdy take on male female relationships. Though it’s not presented here, Duke Errol’s version of Big Bamboo still has the power to make one blush.

island-in-the-sun-front-coverFirst up, his version of the well-known Banana Boat Song, which I dare say is greatly superior to Belafonte’s version:

Banana Boat Song

Next, another classic calypso song that shows the sense of humor the music is known for:

Mama Look a Boo Boo

I’ve always been a fan of this next song. (Note, Errol’s version has a shortened title. It often goes by “Man Smart, Woman Smarter”):

Woman’s Smarter

Finally, one of the songs Errol was best known for. This ballad shows the quality of his voice, which reminds me at times of Nat King Cole.

Island in the Sun

Not satisfied to simply sing the music, Errol went back to school, studying music theory and composition. In 1968, he created Edem’s Music School which has trained hundreds of musicians.

During the ’80s, Errol served as conductor of the Cabaret Orchestra. He retired in 1990 and that same year formed the Bahamian National Youth Orchestra which, to date, has performed over 400 shows.

Now 77, Duke Errol still lives in Nassau, Bahamas. He has a wife and three children.

[Note: On August 21, 2010 this post was redrafted to correct some errors which were graciously pointed out to me by the Duke himself! (see the comments below) With his help I've also added some better photos from his long career. You can find more at his personal website here. Mr. Strachan was kind enough to call and chat with me by phone, which needless to say made my day if not my week. I've met a lot of people because of this blog, but meeting him is truly a highlight of the last five years. Thanks, Duke!]

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Category: Music |

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