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Lionel Belasco (1881 – c. 24 June 1967) was a prominent pianist, composer and bandleader, best known for his calypso recordings.
According to various sources, he was born in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago; he grew up in Trinidad, the son of an Afro-Caribbean mother and a Sephardic Jewish father. He travelled widely in the Caribbean and South America in his youth, absorbing a wide variety of musical influences. He was leading his own band by 1902. He made his first phonograph recordings in Trinidad in 1914, and soon after first traveled to New York City, where he made more recordings and set up a publishing business. He would continue to travel back and forth between New York and Trinidad for the rest of his life.
Belasco is unusual as a calypsonian in the fact that his instrument was the piano (not exactly the best instrument for the calypso tent). It is because of this that his style is more orchestrated and arranged. Instead of marching the streets or playing the tents, as was the customary for the average calypsonian, he instead became a darling of the local elites, playing the high-class balls and debutante dances. In fact, around this time (1903–04) he began giving piano tutorials to the mayor's daughter. Don Hill, an expert on the subject, who wrote detailed liner notes on the Goodnight Ladies and Gents, the creole music of Lionel Belasco CD, claims that, "According to rumour", he taught her a bit more than simply how to play the piano.... She was shipped back to England in disgrace, and Belasco was forced to flee to New York.
He is originally the famous interpolator of the Martiniquan folksong "L'Année Passée", a tragic song about a Martiniquan girl who became a prostitute in Trinidad. The melody was used in the song for which Lord Invader became famous.
During his stay in Maracaibo, Venezuela, in the late 1930s, Belasco wrote waltzes with a local flavour ("Luna de Maracaibo") and introduced a touch of jazz in some of them (i.e. "Juliana"). He also wrote the calypso "Margarita", recorded by the Cuban singer Vicentico Valdés in New York in the 1960s.
Venezuelan composer and conductor Aldemaro Romero once said about Lionel Belasco that he was the first who jazzed the Venezuelan music, in the 1930s.
His songs "Miranda" (waltz), "Palmeras de Maracaibo" and "Venezuela" were featured in the soundtrack for the 2001 film Ghost World.
- Richie Unterberger, "Artist Biography" at AllMusic.
- Discography of Lionel Belasco on Victor Records from the Encyclopedic Discography of Victor Recordings (EDVR)
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