Billy Moore

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There are many performers named Billy Moore, but only one who matters in the Caribbean nation of Guyana. The preceding statement could be argued with, however, considering that the Moore in question died…
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There are many performers named Billy Moore, but only one who matters in the Caribbean nation of Guyana. The preceding statement could be argued with, however, considering that the Moore in question died a pauper in his native land in 2002 and was originally dumped into an unmarked grave. Soul singer Eddy Grant found out about this tremendous example of neglect and personally paid for Moore to be reburied with a more fitting monument. Moore was one of the stars of a recording industry that in the '50s began to boom among Guyana's population of under one million. As leader of a vocal harmony group called the Four Lords, Moore's most famous record was a Christmas song, "Happy Holidays."

The latter song title may be among the most utilized in songwriting history, providing inspirational fodder for artists as diverse as Irving Berlin, the Ohio Players, and Jim O'Rourke. None of those "Happy Holidays" songs are worth a handful of tinsel on Guyana, however, not since the '50s when the initial distribution of jukeboxes and small 45-rpm record players began. Moore, both as a solo artist and with the Four Lords, was a proud member of a club of innovative Caribbean recording artists such as Lord Kitchener and Lord Melody. These were the early days of recording technology and there was no such thing as multi-tracking, overdubbing, or even individual microphones for the musicians. The beautiful harmonies in "Happy Holidays" were recorded the same way, and in the same take, as the rest of the band track -- with everyone involved crowded around one microphone.

Moore's "Happy Holidays" could eventually evoke emotional displays for Caribbean transplants recalling the warmth of the Christmas season at home. Nostalgic memoirs include descriptions of local parties in which the musicians themselves participated: "...blasting loud from the sound system...Monkey, Barney and Big Nose Eddie would [emerge] from Metropole Cinema yard...the beautiful aroma of pepper pot and garlic pork blending with some nice homemade break would fill the air. By the end of the morning, the musicians started to trickle in. Billy Moore was always the first to arrive. He had to give the cook-up a test run."

Unfortunately, by the '80s there was as little left of the Guyanese musical glory days as scraps at the bottom of the pepper pot by the end of a feast. The lonesome death of Moore inspired an effort to reclaim the glory of the nation's '50s music scene, to give it the same kind of loving attention the music of this era receives in other cultures. One direct result is a compilation tribute to Moore entitled Is We Ting, produced by Dave Martin and featuring an all-star lineup of Caribbean musicians. Additionally, at least one website dedicated to the music of Guyana offers consumers the opportunity to put together their own mix CD from a fat list of classic tracks.