Calypso Music in Postwar America

August 4, 2004 - September 26, 2004
Central Library, Lobby Gallery
Calypso Music in Postwar America

Wednesday, August 4, 6 PM
Trustees Room, 3rd Floor

Calypso Music in Postwar America interprets the expanding popularity of calypso in the context of migration, mass media and tourism. By the 1950s, calypso was one of the earliest examples of a "world music"— a musical style from outside Europe and North America that was marketed to European and North American audiences.

Calypso is a form of topical song that originated in Trinidad around 1900. From the 1930s through the 1960s, records, sheet music, radio, movies and television shows transmitted calypso throughout the Atlantic world. At the same time, migration, artistic tours, military service and tourism constantly move calypsonians and audiences to new locations for calypso performance. Thus, a popular music emerged that was detached from its original social contexts in Trinidad and adapted to a variety of new contexts in the Americas, Europe and Africa.

In 1956, Calypso became an outright craze in the United States with the release of Harry Belafonte’s Calypso, the first album to sell over one million copies in entertainment history. Though the craze soon faded, calypso remained a component of the folk music revival of the late 1950s and 1960s and continued to be popular with vacationers in the Caribbean. Following the 1965 Immigration Act, Caribbean migration to the United States increased substantially. An expanding Caribbean community in New York provided a foundation for a calypso scene that included record companies in Brooklyn and regular performances during the Labor Day Carnival. By the 1980s, Carnivals featuring Calypso were also developing in Boston, Washington, Miami and other American cities.

Calypso Music in Postwar America was organized by the Historical Museum of Southern Florida and was funded, in part, by the National Endowment for the Humanities.