Born Rupert Jay Mitchell to Rupert and Iva Mitchell, Jay grew up between Grand Bahama and Nassau. It is hard to believe that he was once shy after witnessing his command of the stage. The United States have James Brown, we have Jay. That is the magnitude of his stage presence. I'm sitting in the garden of the historic British Colonial Hilton speaking with this icon on a beautiful sunny Bahamian day having a chat with this living legend. I believe this is the first time I heard that he is one of very few Reiki masters in the country. Reiki is one of the more widely known forms of energy healing practiced by the Chinese. This type of Energy Healing involves direct application of Chi (Chi is the term used by the Chinese mystics and martial artists for the underlying force the Universe is made of) for the purpose of strengthening ones energy system (aura). This may be the reason for his seeming so at peace at this stage of his career.
Jay grew up in in a church environment and claims to have had a close connection to music from the very start. In fact, he sang in church even before he knew how to read. "The strangest thing is that Jay heard sounds of the future long before synthesizers were widely used in the music of his early childhood. These sounds prompted him to create instruments and gather neighborhood kids to make music from the age of about six or so. Jay admits that even having a band with very competent musicians later on, the had difficulty understanding where he was going with his style of music. The amazing thing about this whole experience is that ever since learning the keyboard synthesizer, Jay is excited about the possibilities of finally bringing out these sounds that he heard as a child in his music.
Jay got his professional start from his Godfather Gil Robinson who also was the pianist at his church. Gil was one of the pioneers in terms of live bands working in the Freeport area in the early stages of the City's development. Gil's band was comprised of five members. One evening, one of his members didn't show up for work and he then asked Jay to fill in shaking maracas. At first Jay wasn't very good, but he quickly developed his skills and oftentimes accompanied Gil Robinson's group on weekends. His mother objected to his performing in clubs, but quickly gave in when she found out that there was a living to be made from these evenings out on the town.
Click play to hear Jay speak about being punished for playing music (Mitchell, 2004)
Due to the poor broadcast quality of Radio Bahamas in its infancy, the stations that were listened to in Freeport were mostly American. Stations out of Cincinnati, Ohio and WGBS out of Florida attracted listeners due to their superior broadcast quality. This no doubt created a disconnect between the musicians and music being developed in the capitol City, Nassau. A similar scenario was going on in other Family Islands. Jay recalls the first he heard calypso, it was a song by Eloise Lewis entitled 'Chi Chi Merengue'. "I turned the radio up like a tourist, that was so sweet to me I danced all around the house" (Mitchell, 2004).
Foxy Dean out of Nassau, and Junior Wish were among the local entertainers that influenced Jay's singing style."When these fellas sing, tears would to come to my eyes" (Mitchell, 2004). Jay recalls Junior Wish, who traveled quite often worked at The Diamond Head Club in West End Grand Bahama in particular, having outstanding vocal ability.
The years that caught Jay at his best placed him in clubs such as The Tropicana, Junkanoo Club, Bamboo East, Jokers Wild, Sultans Tent, House of Lords, Rum Runner, Kiki Rouge, and even his own club The New Dimension on the premises of The House of Lords. Although the club was successful, the lack of his business skills coupled with the cost of keeping a nine piece band employed brought it to an end. Jay admits, his heart got in the way in making sound business decision during slow periods.
Jay developed a great following in the Family Islands once he started performing regularly. Along with his cousin Smoky 007, they pretty much owned the young nightclub patrons. They even had the opportunity to perform together at the Imperial Hotel in Nassau.
Names like Sonny Johnson, Frank Ash & The Ashes, Buster Morley & The Moralites, and Swain & The Citations are only a few of the entertainers that performed locally. Frank Penn, proprietor of GBI recording studio managed Jay for a time and assisted in the development of many recording artists in the Freeport area. 'Willpower', a group that started out in West End by Gladstone McEwan was responsible for me getting a start in the business and T-Connection, one of our al-time finest groups would add to the musical mix that made their mark in the Freeport area.
These days, Jay is working on a book he refers to as the key that promises to reveals the true meaning behind many of his songs. Jay is quite pleased with his life's journey, and says he wouldn't change a thing if given the chance. In a line from his song 'The Recipe' Jay recites to me, "If I had a chance to do it again, I'll do it all the same I have no regrets" (Mitchell, 2004). He further states, "If I had done something slightly different, I might have missed you" (Mitchell, 2004).
For the past few years, Jay has been appearing at The British Colonial Hilton, Downtown Nassau. He is still as exciting as he was years ago, and he says, this only the beginning.