MONA BAPTISTE

PIONEERS

The singer Mona Baptiste is barely a footnote in Britain’s musical history but in Germany and other parts of Western Europe she remains a star

1928-1993

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Mona Baptiste was one of the few women on board the MV Empire Windrush yet somehow escaped the attention of most of the awaiting press. This may be because she had travelled first class, paying twice the fare of the majority of her fellow passengers.

Mona was in fact an up and coming entertainer in Trinidad who’d been singing on the radio and at dances from the age of 14. Her good looks and vocal range marked her out and she decided to try her luck in London, joining the Windrush in Port of Spain, Trinidad, where she grew up. By coincidence, she turned 20 the day before the boat dropped anchor at Tilbury.

Two of her fellow passengers were the celebrated calypsonians, Lord Beginner and Lord Kitchener, and like them Mona found herself quickly absorbed into London’s nightclub and ballroom scene, which had fallen in love with calypso.

Within a few weeks of arriving in Britain, she appeared with Beginner on the BBC’s Light Programme with Stanley Black and his Dance Orchestra and was soon touring as guest vocalist with some of the most popular musicians of the day, among them Ted Heath, Edmundo Ros, Cab Kaye and Stephane Grappelli.

In 1950 she was featured on the same bill as comic Tony Hancock on the Sunday night BBC radio show Variety Bandbox, and a year later recorded her first single, Nat King Cole’s Calypso Blues, for Melodisc.

Impressed, French crooner Yves Montand invited her to appear at top Parisian cabaret spot, La Nouvelle Eve. After this she began performing in Belgium and Germany.

In Germany she became such a huge success that she decided to settle there, making dozens of records – singing in German – and appearing in a number of films, including as the lead in Porgy and Bess for East German television.
From her base in Hamburg she performed all around Europe, returning frequently to London for a number of prime TV spots. In 1957 she returned to the Caribbean to re-record Calypso Blues.

She moved to Ireland in the 1970s to join her new husband and died there in 1993.. Although little known in the UK, her records are collector’s items in Germany, Austria, the Netherlands and Belgium.

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