The year was 1969, and Nassau was in for the wave of this energetic young band called Beginning Of The End. The band, according to lead singer Raphael, was quite a unique group inasmuch as it was heavily influenced by the pop culture that was very vibrant in the United States.
The flower power movement and the hippie generation gravitated towards artists like Marvin Gaye, Impressions, Jerry Butler, and Jimmy Hendrix. Hard rock, rhythm 'n' blues, funk, jazz, and of course the Latin music that was heard over the airwaves from Cuba went into one big melting pot that helped in creating Nassau's newest sound. The members made a decision to quit their jobs and rehearse for six months in order to make this band a success.
With the influence of Freddie Munnings Sr. who ran an extremely successful nightclub, " The Cat and Fiddle", the Munnings brothers along with Fred Henfield had ample opportunity to perform with and hear the many foreign acts that appeared at the club. Among them were Nat King Cole, Count Basie, Flip Wilson and just about any major star of the 50's and 60's entertainment era. These young musicians took full advantage and learnt the many styles that graced the stage of "The Cat and Fiddle".
The members of the band were Fred Henfield on bass guitar, Leroy Munnings - lead guitar, Frank Munnings - drums, and the youngest member Raphael Munnings - vocals and keyboards. Together they came up with the music of "Funky Nassau" which sold over a million copies worldwide. Assisting with the lyrics was Tyrone Fitzgerald, "Dr. Offfff", who died in 2003. Tyrone was to become a leading innovative junkanoo icon in the Bahamas. After months of experimenting with various fusions, the band was ready to present their brand of Bahamian music. In addition to the rhythm section, the band used a few horn players that contributed to the sound of the group. Those musicians were: Neville Sampson, Vernon Mueller, Kenneth Lane and two other relatives, Ralph Munnings and Freddie Munnings.
The New Year brought in the urge to record this new sound, and in 1970 Percy Munnings, the uncle of the young Munnings brothers, after relentlessly being hounded, yielded and provided a $2,000 advance to the group to assist them in cutting the record. With cash in hand, these fine musicians were joined by Neville Sampson on trumpet and Ralph Munnings (cousin) on sax in a recording session in Miami, recording "Funky Nassau" and "Gee Whiz It's Christmas" on the B-side of the record. The Criteria Recording Studio at the time only had 8 tracks, and did a wonderful job in capturing this new sound.
With no sophisticated editing machines in those days, the live performance was done eight times in total before being satisfied with the end product. Upon their return to Nassau a few days later, the 5,000 copies of the 45rpm record were sold out in less than two weeks. It is worthy of mention that Jeff Scavella who was the first to play the song and Charles Carter another influential radio DJ contributed to the success of this record on the local scene. As anticipated, the song "Funky Nassau" took a back seat to "Gee Whiz It's Christmas" which was done in a junkanoo style.
When the New Year rolled in, it brought in "Funky Nassau" which was supported by tourists and locals alike. Percy Munnings was no doubt quite pleased to collect on the loan that started the ball rolling for this project. Sometime in 1971, one of the 5,000 copies sold during the holiday season in 1970 ended up in the jukebox at an Elks lodge in Miami, Florida. As fortune would have it, a disc jockey by the name of Fred Hanna who also happened to be the program director of a local Miami station WMBM heard this new sound for the first time. Mr. Hanna convinced the owner of the lodge to loan him the record that he used to quiz his radio audience as to the name of the artist. Well, no one could guess who the artists were and this in itself sparked great interest in the Miami area.
With the overwhelming response and request for "Funky Nassau" the DJ sent out a message to the band back in Nassau telling them "You Guys Have Got A Hit"! The band immediately flew into Miami where they were introduced to Henry Stone, who happened to be one of the largest record distributors in the South Florida area at that time. Henry Stone struck a distribution deal with the band on his label, Alston Records that was also affiliated with Atlantic Records. Soon after, WEDR, WQAM, and just about any station on the FM dial was tuning in to "Funky Nassau".
Fortunately, the writers Raphael Munnings and Tyrone Fitzgerald had the insight to get their work registered with BMI, unlike many Bahamian song compositions, which were and continue to be lost to foreign entities due to the innocent ignorance or naiveté of our musicians. However, the band was caught by surprise with the success of this record and never really got a firm understanding of what was going on. Cash advances from the record company and record sales royalties shot these young Bahamians into unbelievable stardom.
The only live appearance outside the Bahamas was at the University of Miami in 1971 at the invitation of Bahamian students studying there at the time. Dressed in junkanoo costumes and adding lots of Bahamian music to the repertoire, they entertained a crowd of approximately 5,000 enthusiastic fans. It was not until1974 that the band finally recorded another album entitled "Beginning of The End" which never really took off as "Funky Nassau" had. Despite being managed by Don Taylor (manager for Bob Marley and T-Connection), the group never really re-captured the missed opportunities of the early 70's. The band played the local club scene up until 1975, and did several promotional trips for the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism, but never made it to the international touring circuit.
Looking back, Raphael remembers the impact of the song "Funky Nassau", and recalls that some politicians went so far as to call for a ban on local radio stations, claiming the title painted negative connotations. In fact, "Funky Nassau" spoke of what was going on in the Bahamas. "Mini skirts, maxi shirts, and afro-headed dudes, people doin' their own thing they don't care 'bout me or you" is a line of lyrics reflecting the social climate in the City at the time. The charm and friendliness of the people of Nassau started to be substituted with a disinterest.
Additionally, rock 'n' roll, funk, with all the trimmings were the order of the day. It was a new music, loud music, and these young Bahamian rockers shook the room with sheer volume. Totally contrary from the softer goombay sounds of their time, this band, although they didn't last very long, made a lasting impression on the sound of Bahamian music.
But the world hadn’t heard the last from this revolutionary hit yet. In the year 2000, the song made a grand appearance in the movie, "Blues Brothers 2000". Among the stars performing the track in the movie were Erykah Badu, Joe Morton, Dan Aykroyd, and The Blues Brothers Band. The music continues to be fused with disco and house mixes all over America, Europe, and the rest of the world. The artistic freedom embraced by these young innovators in the late sixties would appear to be testimony that uniqueness will stand up against all time.