Mr. Lou Adams, a suave, well-spoken and sharp-witted gentleman of great talent and tremendous recall, is without doubt one of the elder statesmen in the music industry in The Bahamas. In an interview, he not only gave a clear picture of the music industry during the early days in the city of Nassau, but also great insight as to what was happening socially at the time.
Adams was born in 1922 in Nassau and has been in the music business for over 65 years. His early childhood was spent on Fowler Street where he was born, and later, for most of his youth, on Shirley Street. Around 1927, he attended The Victoria School, which was later named the Curry School and subsequently the Worrel School, and is now referred to as Eastern Junior. After completion of lower school, he went on to Eastern Senior on Shirley Street which was headed by Mr. Mansfield, an Englishman, and following that, Mr. C.I. Gibson, a prominent educator after whom a public school is named. Adams recalls that many of the prominent members of society also attended Eastern Senior.
As a child, live bands were not common at all. In fact, Adams was about fourteen when he heard about "The Chocolate Dandies", a group which he believes had been in existence for about five to six years prior. That would place the band’s formation in the early thirties. The Chocolate Dandies were heavily influenced by big band music of the time.
In the early 1930's, Lou was impressed by a gentleman by the name of Bill Moore, the first “colored” (the term then used for Blacks) trumpet player to play with the many white foreign bands that frequently played in New Providence. As early as he could recall, The Royal Victoria, Fort Montague, and The British Colonial hotels all hired these bands to perform for all of their special functions. These bands greatly influenced the local musicians, exposing them to the sound of big band, jazz, Broadway, and other popular music from the United States and the United Kingdom.
Lou's first encounter with Bill Moore happened as Lou was riding his bicycle on the Eastern Fort. This young man was attracted to the English bicycle that Lou rode; it prompted a conversation that led to their becoming friends. During the course of their friendship, he offered Lou music lessons, which were accepted. As the trumpet was this gentleman’s principal instrument, he impressed upon Lou to take up the trumpet.
"He would take the trumpet and make so many different sounds. Bill made the trumpet cackle like a hen, he made it laugh, and showed great music ability.” (Adams, 2004)
After about a year of tutoring Lou, Bill would leave the Bahamas. Upon his departure, he left with Lou a music course from the US School of Music. Lou recalls parting words left with him, “Before you lies a great future, if you continue to work as you have been. Great things lie ahead.” In these words, Lou took comfort.
Lou practiced religiously and some time thereafter was introduced to Leonard White by good friend George Symonette who was the pianist for the Chocolate Dandies. Leonard, impressed with Lou's sound, invited him to join the group and continued Lou’s music studies. At the time, piano lessons and violin lessons were becoming increasingly popular in the capital. "The Catholic Diocese, they brought musicians who taught the students music." (Adams, 2004)
Many of the prominent musicians today would have benefited from the contribution made by the Catholic Church in The Bahamas. Boy Scout bands, in particular, that popped up in various communities in New Providence sparked the musical interest in young people throughout the city.
Shortly after the Chocolate Dandies disbanded, Lou went on to work with Cleveland Peterson & The Melody Makers, a group in which Levi Gibson played the violin. Around that time, many other fine orchestras were beginning to play around town in lodge halls and various social events. Among the bands were The Noel Mallet Orchestra, The Rudy Williams Orchestra in which Freddie Munnings Sr. got his start playing the trumpet, Charles Ramsey Orchestra, and The Bert Cambridge Orchestra, in which saxophonist Maxwell Thompson who recently died was a member. While the word orchestra was used in many of the groups’ names, they rarely consisted of the standard requirements for an orchestra, and were in fact generally jazz combos.
Lou’s recall of the racial climate is that it was “very relaxed”. According to Lou, "Everybody years ago were friendly, every color went to school together, they associated as one. Racism came about, I think, when politics came on the scene, that's when everybody got divided." (Adams, 2004) His personal feeling is that politicians used the old tactic of dividing the people in order to gain votes. Although the businesses were controlled by the white minority, he feels that everyone got along much better.
Lou acknowledges, however, that on the music scene, all of the serious work was being given to foreign bands, whereas local bands were relegated to poolside engagements until Sidney Oakes, son of Sir Harry Oakes used his influence and secured a job for The Lou Adams Orchestra at The Prince George Hotel. This was during the years of World War II, which would have been in the late thirties into the early forties. Before him, the band that played at the hotel was a trio under the leadership of George Keener. The original members of the Lou Adams Orchestra were Morris Harvey (piano), Bruce Coakley (saxophone), Eric Cash (saxophone), Leonard Perpall (Drums), Fred Henfield (bass), and of course Lou Sr. on trumpet. They catered mostly to a tourist audience, as it was rare to have blacks socializing in a Bay Street establishment during the early years.
For that particular era, this ensemble would have been considered quite large in comparison to the other bands that played in the “Over The Hill” area in Nassau. As a matter of fact, Lou credits the church for keeping the musicians working. Dances and concerts were frequently sponsored by most of the churches in their halls and schoolrooms. The St. Matthew’s Schoolroom would have been one of the more popular venues of the day.
One advantage of having the many foreign bands, according to Lou, was that after completing their hotel engagements, they would always flock to the "Over The Hill" dances and perform with the local musicians. This exposed the locals to many styles and the high standard of performance needed to be in the business. The Silver Slipper would also be one of the favorite night spots for musicians to gather during the after hours. This time was a glorious time, recalls Lou, as it was safe, the music was great and everyone got along.
Sir Oliver Simmons, a wealthy landowner would later help The Lou Adams Orchestra to become the first Bahamian band to perform in the dining room of the British Colonial Hotel, at a time when it was unheard of for local bands to perform in the dining room of any hotel in The Bahamas. Make no mistake, Bahamian bands could play by the pool areas and maybe the bars, but the dining halls were off limits to local artists. These dining rooms would have Broadway shows that would change each week when the cruise ships arrived at the seaport in Nassau.
The fact that Lou and his band members knew how to read music would work strongly in their favor. A retired journalist by the name of "Snake Aames" from Chicago would introduce them to all of the latest show tunes. This would happen when "Snake" had the band perform privately for him after their evening engagements at the hotel. Having the means, Aames would go so far as to charter a jet to bring in friends and on occasion, sheet music for Lou and his band to entertain at his home.
Lou Adams, Sr. opened many doors for Bahamian musicians. When the Zanzibar (an Over the Hill establishment which stands to this day on Blue Hill Road) opened in 1940, Lou and his band which included Eloise Lewis at the time were the entertainment for that establishment. The opening of the Balmoral Hotel (now the site of Sandals Royal Bahamian) in 1949 saw the first black Bahamian band, Lou's orchestra. Worth reiterating is the fact that the British Colonial was indeed a major breakthrough for any Bahamian band, with the way paved by Lou Adams himself.
These early years were not without hardship. Many workers, even those employed by the government, oftentimes left the Bahamas and went to the United States on contract to work on farms in order to survive. The tourism season lasted only three months thus leaving families in financial difficulties for the remainder of the year.
Music, however, was good to The Adams Lou Orchestra, especially during their years at the Zanzibar. Lou and his band also shared the stage with many international celebrities including James Brown and B.B. King while on tour in America. Nowadays, The Lou Adams Orchestra performs at The Lyford Cay Club, an exclusive hotel in a gated community in the Western district of New Providence. The many years of quality music provided are credited with bringing many tourists back to that resort time and time again.
The interview with Lou revealed the life of a fine gentleman. Just a few short months ago, while on my way to work, a young lady called in on the radio and thanked him for the promise he made to her father at her birth. The promise kept was Lou and his orchestra performing at her wedding. Nearly twenty years had passed and he made good on his promise. When one considers his involvement in the Bahamas Musicians & Entertainers Union, and his consummate professionalism, one has to be convinced that some of the greatest contributions to this industry in some way or the other can be attributed to the efforts made my Lou Adams, Sr.