Duke of Iron

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Calypso legend the Duke of Iron was born Cecil Anderson in Trinidad the son of a musician father. In 1913 he teamed with Jules Sims to make the first-ever vocal calypso recordings, but little is known…
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Calypso legend the Duke of Iron was born Cecil Anderson in Trinidad the son of a musician father. In 1913 he teamed with Jules Sims to make the first-ever vocal calypso recordings, but little is known about the decade that followed. His story resumes in 1923, when he relocated to New York City and began touring local clubs and college campuses to little notice. In 1940, the Duke of Iron finally began attracting attention from the music cognoscenti, landing a ten-month headlining stint at the Village Vanguard; he then traveled to the West Coast, touring the U.S. extensively before returning to New York in 1943. During this period, he also enjoyed a prolific recording career, primarily for the Monogram label. Among his many singles were "Parakeets," "The Naughty Fly," "Kockeemoonga (Means You Are a Dope)," "Marry a Woman Uglier Than You" (the inspiration for Jimmy Soul's 1961 novelty pop hit "If You Want to Be Happy"), and, most famously, the ribald cult classic "The Big Bamboo." In December 1946, the Duke of Iron joined Lord Invader, Macbeth the Great, and Gerald Clark for a now-legendary calypso showcase hosted by renowned archivist Alan Lomax at New York's Town Hall. (The concert was recorded and is now available on the Rounder label release Calypso at Midnight!) A year later, he headlined the Samuel Manning-directed Caribbean Carnival, the first (and so far only) calypso musical ever staged on Broadway. Premiering December 5, 1947 at the International Theatre, the lavish production featured over 50 singers and dancers but received harsh reviews and closed soon after, with the Duke of Iron subsequently returning to Trinidad. But in the mid-'50s, calypso experienced a commercial rebirth in the U.S. thanks to the massive popularity of singer and actor Harry Belafonte, so in 1956, the Duke made a triumphant return to the Big Apple, settling in for a lengthy stay headlining the Jamaican Room. The following year, he appeared in the Angie Dickinson film Calypso Joe. With the growing popularity of rock & roll, calypso again lost favor with the record-buying public, and the Duke of Iron again returned to Trinidad to live out his remaining years.