Frank Penn was born in Nassau and grew up on Burial Ground Corner with four brothers and three sisters. His father the late Simpson C. Penn was a well respected nation builder and along with his mother Florabelle Rose raised Frank to be a very disciplined young man. Frank has suffered the loss of two of his daughters, one of whom was Kristen Penn, a very talented recording artist in her own right. Frank sadly refers to her as a gift that will always be missed.
Frank’s musical journey began at an early age as a piano student and bugle player in the Boys Brigade Band in the early 50’s. Frank recalls crowds of people lining the streets of the city of Nassau to enjoy the parades featuring the band. He also states that the prominence that musicians enjoyed in past years was phenomenal; wherever musicians went, they were treated with the greatest of respect. In 1957, he graduated from Eastern Senior School and shortly thereafter in 1958 started his career as a songwriter with the song "Strike, Strike, Strike" documenting the events surrounding the Bahamas general strike in January of 1958.
In 1963, after a failed marriage, Frank took a trip to Freeport in order to get away and gather his thoughts. Amazed at the island’s tranquility and solemn beauty, he vowed to return, and so he did later that year. Having had the experience of being a barber among other things, Frank opened a barber shop in the city of Freeport which, at the time, was on the eve of being developed. However, the construction boom on that island did little for his business because the men were at work all day.
After months of shooting pool due to the lack of customers, Frank himself joined the men of that island on construction jobs in order to better utilize his time. Not able to stay away from music, he approached Eugene of the Bunting Studio to spearhead a live recording of the song entitled "Freeport". A friendship developed between the two men that led to them becoming partners in the Bunting Studio. Frank dealt with the recording aspects of the studio while Mr. Bunting retained his interest in filming. This period really was the beginning of Frank’s recording career.
Meanwhile, Mr. Bunting invented a sync motor that could be used for synchronizing film and audio. He then decided to leave the island and move the United States where he could market his product. Frank, concerned about his fate as a partner, asked for special consideration in buying out Eugene’s share of the studio, as he had no available cash. Mr. Bunting made arrangements with his bank to finance Frank’s purchase of total ownership interest in the studio. Although Frank admits that there were rough times, he managed to hold on to the business from that day to the present.
The studio was renamed GBI Recording Studio and was the only local recording studio in Grand Bahama for many years. Since its existence, many of our finest recording artists such as KB, Dry Bread, Wendell Stuart, T. Coakley, Kristen Penn, Willpower, Blind Blake, and just about any recording artist on that island took the opportunity to record there.
Frank waged a long-term campaign for the Broadcasting Corporation of The Bahamas (ZNS), the public and only radio station, to play more Bahamian music. For this, he paid dearly, he says, creating a lot of animosity towards him. Still, to give his campaign more worth, Frank turned out record after record at great expense to himself in order to provide local records for the station. This effort even expanded to him getting airplay on South Florida stations in order to gather the much needed exposure.
Frank served as the President of the Grand Bahama Musicians & Entertainers Union from 1976-1978. In that post he established the Bahamian Composition Month which in an agreement specified that 2 out of every 4 songs played on the radio should be Bahamian songs. His presidency also gave him the opportunity to assist local bands in gaining employment with local hotels and also to lead discos and clubs to a 50%/50% balance of Bahamian versus foreign music.
Interestingly, Frank did a stint at the El Casino as a comedian during his presidency of Grand Bahama Musicians & Entertainers Union. This all Bahamian Casino revue "Island Fever" that was produced by Lou Seiler and his wife Lois was short of a comedian and Frank successfully auditioned for the vacancy, to their surprise. Frank also noted the many contributions by the Seilers in the development of the Arts in the Freeport area.
Unfortunately, the musicians and entertainers’ lack of support and togetherness prevented much of Frank’s goals as President to be realized. Among the failures stand many great accomplishments, however, including the establishment of the Music Maker of the Year (MMOYA), one of the first music awards programs in the Bahamas, 1st place winner of the 2nd Independence Song Competition, guest appearances on television stations in London, Canada, and The Bahamas, appointment to the International Caribbean Music Awards (IMCA), Vice-President of The G.B. Musicians & Entertainers Union, recipient of the National Tourism Award, and countless other awards and completed special projects.
As a composer, Frank considers himself as an inspirational writer. He writes from the heart, and much like the calypsonians of Trinidad he writes about things that are going on in society. His disappointment in local recording artists not performing even their own recordings runs deep. The other concern that he shared was that of local artists neglecting their own culture in order to satisfy international record companies and producers. Deviation from what he terms as Bush Music came at a great cost to the industry. Frank holds the opinion that if only the musicians had taken the pop tunes and done them in the “Bush” style, this music could have been widely accepted much like it happened for our neighbors in Jamaica who did just that.
Frank's passion for Bahamian music and his courage to speak out through his songs against injustice earns him a special place in the history of Bahamian music. Although some artists felt as if they weren’t fairly dealt by Penn, many of them owe their start in the business to him. Although his accomplishments came with much sacrifice, Frank is convinced that “whatever I did was done with the best of intentions.” (Penn, 2004).