Maureen DuV-alier (MBE) is the original Bahama Mama. That means, for years, this outstanding lady has been entertaining and leading the way as one of the premier female icons in The Bahamas.
It was the 14th day of May in 1926 when a siren went off to signal that it was noon, and the baby who would come to be Bahama Mama had made her entry on earth. Burial Ground Corner off East Street produced a child that would make her mark on the music industry in The Bahamas in so many ways.
Her father Eustace Edward DuValier was born in Inagua, but was the second brother of Francois “Papa Doc” DuValier, past president of Haiti. Maureen recalls visiting Haiti as a child during the summers. She got to know her family quite well during these visits. Later on in life, while performing on a cruise ship, Maureen received the royal treatment with full private escorts, at the invitation of her uncle Papa Doc DuValier.
Maureen grew up mainly with her godparents Bert Cambridge and his wife Dorris. Her early childhood education began at the Sands School, which was located opposite the now Ministry of Education building on Shirley Street. There her contralto voice was favored and was oftentimes utilized by her teacher for reciting poems to her classmates. The church also played an important part in her development and appreciation of music. Godfather Bert Cambridge would help to mold her talents as a young vocalist.
Bert, a prominent musician and recipient of many awards was a member of the Chocolate Dandies group and also headed his own orchestra for a time. Regular rehearsals held at his home provided Maureen the opportunity to learn songs from lead sheets lying around the practice area. In picking up these lead sheets, Maureen sharpened her sol-fa skills, and on occasion was invited to rehearse with the band. Big band and other popular music of the day would permeate the home during these early years.
Maureen enjoyed this time in her childhood, and was kept very busy with singing, sewing, and her schoolwork. Her time of worship was shared between Salem Baptist Church, where her godmother was a member, and St. Agnes Anglican Church, where her godfather was a member.
When Maureen was about eleven, her godfather took her to the Jungle Club where he was performing at the time. This huge thatch structure opened the eyes of this star-to-be to the world of entertainment. Although Maureen was young, she had already developed a repertoire that Bert Cambridge couldn't resist exposing to the public. Peanuts Taylor (propped up on a chair) and a lady by the name of Big Biner (Ms. Lewis) would be among the entertainers featured at the Jungle Club at that time. Maureen’s debut on stage is a bit vague in her mind, but she recalls subsequently performing at the Silver Slipper in a duet with Freddie Munnings Sr.
Click play to Maureen's account of her first paid performance at the Silver Slipper night club -
Bert Cambridge had developed quite a reputation, being one of the few trained musicians on the island. This afforded Maureen the opportunity to move about with him when he would assist other bands during their rehearsals. Among the bands that Bert would help was the Ramsey Orchestra, one of the earlier bands that played jazz and Broadway tunes among other styles.
Maureen also recalls that socially, women in nightclubs were frowned upon. To add to this, she headed the first female dance performance group in Junkanoo, the national street festival of The Bahamas. "First woman to take women to perform for Bay Street junkanoo, they say: good Lord, what else she gon do!" (DuV-alier, 2004). Although the date is a bit uncertain, she is sure that this happened when junkanoo returned to Bay Street after being moved to the "Over The Hill" area of Nassau during the late forties.
As this project was being finalized, it was announced that the Boxing Day Junkanoo Festival for 2004 would be named in Maureen’s honor, a most fitting tribute to the junkanoo pacesetter.
Similar to what a few musicians of her time have said, yet quite in opposition to what others also of her time recall, Maureen has little recollection of racial tension, recounting that the only time she experienced any form of racial discrimination was at the local banks. There was no difficulty in depositing money, but when it was time to withdraw, one had to be known to employees of the bank, who were all white at the time. Places like the Savoy Theater and The British Colonial, although having a reputation for practicing discrimination, never prohibited her from entering. “I just went in and sat down, and no one ever asked me to leave, I know if they asked me to leave, I would leave, but no one ever asked.” (DuV-alier, 2004)
The development Board, tourism arm of the then UBP Government took full advantage of musicians during the forties and fifties. Maureen was afforded the opportunity to represent the Bahamas on many occasions. Songs like "Brown Skin Gal" with Freddie Munnings Sr. and his small combo in the background, brought audiences to their feet.
Recordings done by Maureen were accompanied by a band from the Virgin Islands, The Ladd Richards orchestra which, in Maureen's opinion, had the same feel as the Bahamian bands of the time. She really enjoyed working with them on the cruise ships and in the recording studio.
Maureen’s memories of her career are almost all good. For that reason, she says that the only bad experience, which happened in the Midwest USA when a promoter left them stranded, stands out in her mind. This experience however still turned out to be a partly good memory, due to the assistance of a police officer who rescued them, providing transportation, room and board until the group returned home.
Click play to hear Maureen's account of this experience in Indianapolis -
Maureen also recalls one of her most moving experiences, in Canada during a performance with King Eric & His Knights. The audience’s appreciation of the performing Bahamian musicians was overwhelming.
Click play to hear Maureen's account of this experience in Canada -
Looking back and thinking about what she would have done differently, Maureen says her only wish would have been to complete her college education at New York University, as this would have pleased her dear mother greatly.
In 1992, Maureen surrendered her life to Christ. At the age of 77, she feels like luckiest woman in the world. Friends, extended family, the community, all shower her with love and affection. For this she's eternally grateful.
Pictured with friends - Alice Simms & "Duke" Errol Strachan at The British Colonial 1968
Maureen recently was included in the list of persons to be awarded Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE), by Queen Elizabeth II for her outstanding contribution to The Bahamas.
Maureen makes regular appearances at the Atlantis Resort on Paradise Island, Bahamas and is still going strong.