Among the giants on the Bahamian music scene is one of our authentic calypsonians and Cacique Award winner "Count Bernadino". The Count was destined to be in the business from a very early age in the settlement of Norman's Castle on the island of Abaco, Bahamas. On weekends, he would climb up on crates to witness the locals as they gathered at the lumberyard to dance. The Island folk would dress in their best and exercise fine courtesy as they would line up, men on one side of the room, and women on the opposite side until the men came over and bowed to a desired partner for a dance. The band was comprised of about five musicians, the concertina, 1 small goatskin drum, maracas, and 2 acoustic guitars.
The music of the time, according to Count, was "strictly bush" (meaning local rhythms and melodies). Around age nine or so Count recalls learning to play the guitar, part of a combo comprising 2 guitars, 2 drums, and 1 concertina. The drums that were used at that time were described as being about 8 inches in diameter, and were held across the knee in performance. "That was some sweet music!" exclaimed Count. It was quite a challenge for him to recall the name of the style of music performed back then; as some of his contemporaries would state, the music style had no name as such. For the most part, the music was generally referred to as African music.
Frame drums - similar to drum described by Count Bernadino
The island of Abaco being pretty much isolated from the rest of the world up to this point saw very little influence from other cultures. There was one battery-operated radio owned by the owner of the lumberyard. The radio was set up on a wall where the locals oftentimes listened in amusement to foreign radio shows. Nonetheless, every weekend was dedicated to the largely instrumental music of the small combo in that settlement. These childhood experiences remained with Count up until he finished school and came to Nassau.
Once in Nassau, in the early forties, Count practiced on an old guitar given to him by a friend back in Abaco. Being under strict supervision, which was very common in those days for girls and boys, Count had very little interaction socially in Nassau. "When I came to Nassau, they had big bands," Count recalls, mentioning names like Charlie Carey and Lou Adams. He remembers that people would attend church after which they would go dancing. Folks would be all dressed up for a fun night on the town. Dance competitions were quite common during these evenings on the town. The men were especially talented dancers.
Shortly thereafter, Count was enlisted into the army shipped off to Jamaica. It is there that he began playing regularly. Whether it was before guard duty, or on weekend furlough, the men would sit around and sing while Count played the guitar. During a 24-hour furlough, a group of enlisted men went to a club called "The Glass Bucket", and there they coaxed Count to go on the stage. Count was introduced to the pianist of the three-piece band who to his amazement was born in the Bahamas but was then living in Jamaica. That individual turned out to be none other than George Moxey (father of Edmund Moxey).
Thereafter, regular visits to "The Glass Bucket" provided Count with the opportunity to learn new songs and gain confidence performing in front of an audience. After being discharged from the army, upon returning home, he would run into George Moxey again. With only an occasional gig (job) over the hill, Count decided to take up an invitation from his uncle to go to New York in 1947. "Life was not easy, I washed dishes to get by," said Count.
A short time after working at the restaurant, the owner, knowing that Count played the guitar encouraged him to entertain the patrons on his breaks. For this Count's salary went from $36 to $42.50 per week and was promoted to head dishwasher.
Not long after, Count met some musicians who practiced in an apartment located on his way home from work. Not being shy, he went in and introduced himself. They all became friends and he joined them at the New York School of Music where many other West Indian and Caribbean people were enrolled. Eventually they formed a band, and Count was the designated leader. The "Bacannals" as they were called was a 12-piece band that performed around the New York area. In fact, on graduation night, booking agents came to hear the various bands from the New York School of Music; of course they took a liking to the "Bacannals" and invited them, well, seven of them, to go on tour. With a scaled down unit, the group would travel to different States performing their calypso songs.
Count and his band had the opportunity to travel performing in Chicago, Boston, New York, and various parts of the United States. This lasted for about seven years before Count decided to return home to the Bahamas. Upon returning home, he met Freddie Munnings Sr. who auditioned and hired him on the guitar to perform at The Cat 'n' Fiddle club. It was not until three months later that a friend visiting from New York informed Freddie Munnings Sr. that Count could also sing. With that bit of information, Count began his singing career in the Bahamas.
Click play to hear Count talk about entertainers during the early 60's -
Count formed a group in the early 60's and made his first trip representing the Bahamas in Canada. Following that, the Bahamas Development Board under the leadership of Sir Stafford Sands sent Count and many other entertainers all over the world to attract tourist to the Bahamas.
Musicians in those days were an important component in the development of the country. Their craft brought them great influence. Count, along with others played for some of the most powerful people from all over the world.
Signed note from Vice President of the United States - Richard Nixon
Many of these types of promotional tours continued throughout the 60's. Although these trips were exciting, there were many challenges according to Count.
Click play to hear Count talk about racism while touring during the 60's -
Around the mid 60's, cruise ships were required to shut down their entertainment and casinos one they got within three miles of the Bahamas. When that law changed, the impact was far reaching. Clubs all over Nassau that thrived from these tourists hungry for entertainment gradually went out of business. Even taxi cabs, restaurants, and many other support services suffered as a result.
From the seventies up to now, Count attributes his survival to calypso music. As one of our few calypsonians, Count continues to entertain locals and tourists alike all over the islands of the Bahamas. He performs on Paradise Island two days weekly, Saturday night shows at Breezes, and several other standing engagements at various hotels.
Click play to hear Count talk about preserving calypso tradition -
In addition to performing, Count continues to make his contribution to local charities as he did in the past. Recently he teamed up with Ronnie Butler and released "Age Ain't Nothin' But A Number". This local hit song was produced and composed by Fred Ferguson, one of our finest musician/composer. With no sign of stopping, Count continues to do what he does best, music, music, and more music.
Click play to hear Count talk about his involvement in the community -