DESCRIPTION: "If you want to be happy... marry a woman uglier than you." She will have your meals on time and will be good to you in bed. "A pretty woman... can very often cause [your] downfall... exhibiting herself to Peter and Paul"
AUTHOR: Hubert R. Charles (Roaring Lion)
EARLIEST DATE: 1934 (Hubert R. Charles recording)
KEYWORDS: adultery infidelity love marriage sex warning beauty food nonballad husband wife
Hubert R. Charles, "Marry an Ugly Woman" (1934, on Melotone 12965)
The Lion with Gerald Clark and his Caribbean Serenaders, "Ugly Woman"(1941, on Decca 18143A)
The Lion and Frederico's Calypso Band, "Ugly Woman" (n.d., on "Calypso in Britain (1950-1953)" Vol. 2 [recorded 1951])
Sir Lancelot with Gerald Clark and His Calypso Orchestra, "Ugly Woman" (n.d., on "Calypso Legends - Sir Lancelot (1940-1952)" [recorded 1941])
Duke of Iron and Gerald Clark and the Band, "Ugly Woman" (1999, on "Calypso at Midnight," Rounder CD 11661-1840-2 [recorded 1946])
Jimmy Soul, "If You Wanna Be Happy" (1963, S.P.Q.R 3305)
NOTES: The Lion recorded his song as Hubert R. Charles on a trip to New York in 1934. American singer and radio/movie personality Rudy Vallee was in the studio, heard Lion sing this song, and had him perform it on his radio show, on "a coast-to-coast hookup" [Donald R. Hill, Calypso Calaloo (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1993), p. 184]. Lion naturally performed this song at break-neck speed; I still have trouble picking up the words even after hearing other people perform it and Lion's own later, more leisurely, performance. The numbers in this case are significant: excluding instrumental interludes, Lion sings each of five eight-line verses in 17 seconds (and not for lack of time since the recording runs 2:30 minutes, when three minutes was the rough limit for 10" 78rpm disks). In 1941 he recorded the song again, the same way, with Gerald Clark's orchestra. Clark, who had a regular gig at the Village Vanguard in New York, had two singers with him: Macbeth the Great and Sir Lancelot. "Ugly Woman" was among Lancelot's songs. "Sir Lancelot... appears immaculate in a white-coated dinner jacket. He stands erect, his head thrown back, and enunciates each word clearly and distinctly as he sings" [Malcolm Johnson, "Gerald Clark and His Calypso Artists at the Village Vanguard," The New York Sun, April 5, 1940, p. 27]. The point is made in the discussion of "Hold 'im Joe," that the mostly white midtown and Village New York audience appreciated calypso singers they could understand. When Sir Lancelot recorded "Ugly Woman" with Gerald Clark's orchestra he sang each of the five eight-line verses in 25 seconds -- almost half again the time of Lion's performance -- and the recording runs three minutes.
In the 1946 Town Hall "Calypso at Midnight" concert "Ugly Woman" was one of the three songs Alan Lomax chose to warm up the audience. "Ugly Woman" records had sold well in the United States [Steve Shapiro, "Forward" for liner notes on "Calypso at Midnight," Rounder CD 11661-1840-2, 1999]. The other two were recent hits in the popular market. How would "Ugly Woman" be performed? Once again, Gerald Clark is the orchestra leader and this time Duke of Iron, a popular calypsonian in New York, sang. With no time limit imposed by record capacity, but with a live audience to work, Duke of Iron sang only four verses, doing each verse in 28 seconds, and the song ran 2:45 to -- as the old song sheets used to claim -- "great applause."
Incidentally, Lion recorded the song again in 1951. After a new introductory explanation he sings only four verses, each in 22 seconds, and the record runs 3:08.
In 1963 Jimmy Soul recorded "If You Wanna Be Happy." The tune and structure are different but 14 of his 16 lines are very close to the Lion/Lancelot 1941 version. The lines replaced describe the ideal woman, whom your friends may denigrate -- "See a mouse falling from her eye/ Around her lips a Confirmation bow tie" -- by "Go ahead and marry anyway/ Take it from me she's a better catch." Both the Duke of Iron and Lion himself in 1951 drop the verse altogether, possibly as not being appreciated by their current audience. Covers of Soul's version remain popular and even today (2015) are the music for a popular country line dance: "Crazy Foot Mambo."
I have included this song because of the part it plays in the history of commercial calypso music. For the context see the discussion of "Hold 'im Joe." - BS
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