It seems that popular music (more commonly known as “dance music”) has always dominated the social life of Guyana.
In the first half of the 20th century, “big bands”, including the Harry Banks Orchestra, Bert Rogers Orchestra and Al Seales with his Washboard Swing Orchestra, were visible at dances and at almost every celebration of christening, marriage, birthdays among the middle-class.
By the 1960s, the “big bands” began to disappear due to migration and “string bands” came upon the scene.
According to Vibert Cambridge (Stabroek News 18 January 2004): “These new bands created the soundtrack for the Guyanese baby-boomer generation — the generation that is currently very vocal in their nostalgias about those days when ‘life was simple and life was safe’”.
Cambridge’s research unearthed the lively presence of some 70 string bands, among them, the Ramblers, Bumble and the Saints, Combo 7, Cannonballs, Dominators, Rhythmnaires, Telstars, to name a few.
AUBREY CUMMINGS was born in 1947 into an Alberttown home and showed an early flair for art: “He loved to draw.
He would draw on anything he could find — on the small squares of brown paper that were used to package rice and sugar and on the back of old calendars.
His drawings would be displayed on the walls of his school” (vide Cambridge) — the Queenstown R C Primary.
However, it was not for his art that he would become a familiar name in Guyana in the 60s and 70s before he migrated. It was for his music.
As a teenager the magic of popular music and show business excited him and he took up the guitar.
He was a self-taught guitarist and spent the rest of his life performing and entertaining as a vocalist and guitarist.
Aubrey Cummings passed away in Barbados on 14th April 2010 at the age of 62.
Following is the Eulogy by his friend and colleague, Derry Etkins.
I first “experienced” Aubrey Cummings at a fete in the “Q.C. Tuck Shop” in 1967. Queen’s College is the high school I attended. He was “tripling” as rhythm guitarist, arranger and vocalist with one of the bands of the time, “The Dominators”.
Aubrey’s guitar playing was one of the sources or forces that helped build me a reputation as a “chord man” around musical circles, during my own stint as organist with another band, “The Gradu8s”, back in the 70’s. I often teased Aubrey about “the piano ‘roun’ yuh neck”, so full and harmonically sophisticated was his playing.
I remember being subjected to my father’s sarcasm when I woke late one Thursday morning, having stayed up late the night before to listen to the late night Radio Programme (don’t remember the name, but “the Dominators” were featured that night) …. all of this, of course, at the expense of homework.
In my Father’s words, reporting to my Mom on the previous night’s activity, “The Dominators dominated the evening”…. such was my fascination with Aubrey’s playing.
This influence was apparent as early as the days of “The Q.C. Syncoms”, a band that five of us formed in 1968, while still at school. It may have even contributed to my own interest in arranging.
Fortunately, I was able to tell him and to thank him several times, as we became colleagues and then friends over the years.
Aubrey’s talents did not end with singing, nor with playing the guitar, he also had a keen ear for phonetics. There is a story to this.
In 1973, Aubrey left The Dominators and helped form a new incarnation of another band, “The Telstars”, and I was included as organist …. Imagine …. ME, playing in the same band with one of my idols!!! Aubrey was now a colleague!
Of course, Aubrey brought his repertoire with him. There was this song where the first line went, (singing) “O Jackie, something …. something …. something and, much to his frustration, I used to tease him about begging his girlfriend to take him back.
Anyway, we rehearsed for a few weeks, played at a few functions in Guyana, then went to Brazil on tour. After the first set on the first night, girls were rushing him, some of them had pen and pad in hand, asking for autographs, and others …. Well, we won’t go there.
What really caught my attention, however, was a reporter, microphone in hand talking to Aubrey, and Aubrey shrugging his shoulders, and shyly shaking his head from side to side, as if to say, “No”.
After investigating I realized that poor Aubrey had put his foot in his mouth when he sang “O Jackie”. You see, “O Jackie” was really Nossa Cancão, and, so convincing was his rendition of that and some other Brazilian songs, that our hosts were convinced that Aubrey was fluent in Portuguese, and they would not be persuaded otherwise. That trend continued for the rest of our stay in Brazil.
Later that year, “The Telstars” visited Barbados and recorded their album, “Orbiting”. Aubrey returned to Guyana at the end of this tour. I stayed, but that’s another story.
Fast-forward slightly to 1978
I had returned to Guyana where I met Aubrey again, and I was shocked when he told me that he had hitch-hiked back to Brazil in 1975. AUBREY HITCH-HIKING?! Mister particular, mister one-hour-before-the-time white-pants-Aubrey sleeping on a bus, going for two days without a shower?!
Well, it paid off for him, because he was very well received in Rio and even more so in Brasilia. He did stints with a few Brazilian bands over a six-month period.
Anyway, it seems like his Aubreyness got the better of him, and he returned home.
Fast forward to 1983. I returned to Barbados and met Aubrey again, this time I was an adult. By this time, Aubrey had already established himself as a singer and guitarist, having played with musicians of the ilk of John Roett, Charlie King, Nicholas Branker, Johnny Glasgow (Linus Yaw) to name a few.
He had been a regular feature at what was then “Green Sleeves”, a restaurant in St. Peter, and at various Hotels on the circuit. His song writing had also kicked into high gear. “A Flower Named June,” “Think I am in Love,” “Analie,” and “The Children of Sanchez” are just some of the hits he had produced by the time of my return to Barbados.
Aubrey and I were “thrown together” in 1987 when, at the “Caribbean Song Festival” which was held here, Barbados was invited to be part of the “Curacao International Song Festival” (CURINFEST) that same year. Aubrey asked me to arrange his song for that event.
This added a new dimension to my relationship with him. I was now arranging for the man whose arranging skills awed me as a teenager! Imagine that!
Aubrey was no stranger to festival activity, so to speak, as he had represented Barbados at the Caribbean Song Festival on more than one occasion, and had brought prizes home as well.
After CURINFEST, Aubrey and I started communicating on a regular basis. We didn’t see each other often, or should I say, often enough, but we were on the phone to each other at least once a week.
It was during this time that I visited Aubrey’s home for the first time. There I discovered yet another side to the Aubrey Cummings talent; his painting.
Aubrey’s living room walls were decorated with examples of his own work. Let me hasten to say, that I am by no means an art critic, but I was impressed!
During this period as well, we started to talk as two men. We shared stories about our childhood; his being urban and mine rural. Aubrey was a reader and very aware of current affairs, and could discuss a wide range of topics.
I was able to see some of what many people misunderstood about Aubrey. A basically shy, almost insecure man, who would only let those close to him to see behind the façade. To some, he came across as haughty, to others as arrogant, to some others as cold and aloof…. all of this to hide the soft, deeply passionate and sensitive person inside.
I was able to see this “up close and personal” in 2005, when I had an even greater honour to serve as producer and Co-Arranger on Aubrey’s CD entitled, “Moon Over Me”…. imagine …. ME, being trusted to co-arrange, record, mix and master an entire Album for one of my idols!!!
To me, there is a thin line between self-evaluation and self-censure. Aubrey came very close to that line on many occasions, while we were working on that project.
I guess we will never know if Aubrey really knew how good a musician he was, but the level of respect, silent or expressed, that was felt by all musicians with whom he interacted, will witness that to observers.
Aubrey Augustus Cummings. My teen-idol, my colleague, my friend. Rest in peace.
(“Barbados, 21st April, 2010”)
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