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My Friend Aubrey

Aubrey Cummings - A Flower Named JuneAubrey Cummings “The Beginning"

People today know about the late Aubrey Cummings as a Musician and Painter who resided somewhere in the Island of Barbados. But I met Aubrey when he was a teenager about sixteen or seventeen years of age. You see, I told myself that I was a singer then because it was something for someone like me to do.

Photograph -- Desmond Wray, Herman Marshall, Aubrey Cummings, with Nicky Porter sitting on stool.
Photograph -- Desmond Wray, Herman Marshall, Aubrey Cummings, with Nicky Porter sitting on stool.

So without any musical background or experience I looked for others who had the same dream. I first had my best friend at the time Oswald Dawson, (Azee) his cousin Gloria, Herman Marshall, and another friend Winston St.Clair.

This closely knitted group were all friends that knew nothing about music we just follow what we saw in the cinemas. Myself and Azee from time to time sometimes every day would lime outside the record stores down town just to listen to records. I was fascinated by the Tony Williams Platters and thought that I was better than the Dukes recognized as the top vocal group in the city.Then one day I met this young man and we started talking while I was going to a little place to eat something whose owner was Viv. MacDonald who at time did not know that he too would have something to do with the growth of my musical career.

He had a little Photo shop on Wellington Street; that sold milk and little eateries, so my self and this young man who I later found out to be Aubrey who knew me, before I knew him. We bought two glasses of milk and something to eat, I can’t remember what now but I do remember that I couldn’t pay for the something neither could Aubrey, but the girl that was selling let us have one anyway, and we shared it.

From left to right in photo: Desmond Wray, Aubrey Cummings and Winston Bennons,
From left to right in photo: Desmond Wray, Aubrey Cummings and Winston Bennons,

Aubrey told me then that he was very interested in music and was learning to play the guitar. I thought that it was fate that brought us together even though I was not looking for a guitarist I grab this opportunity because it played right into my hand; now we could have someone who knows music even if it was a little bit. The bond between Aubrey Cummings and me had just begun. He gave me his address on Lamaha St.

I went there alone the next day I told myself it was just to hear him play but at the back of my mind it was more than to hear him play. Then was when I met Aubrey’s mother. When she asked me where I lived and I told her Albuoystown she chuckled a little, but was a friendly sort of woman with a wry smile, The kind of smile that appears to be friendly, but was pregnant with questions. I understood why. I learned later after visiting a few times in those early years that Aubrey and his mother were very close. I have never met his father, I got the impression that it was just him and his mother I can’t remember if he had any siblings, I have never seen any, but I could be wrong. All I saw with Aubrey was his guitar, and a smile. Nicky Porter went solo... Desmond Wray added a singer named Winston Bennons, Aubrey moved on to The Dominators with Ray Seales, Gordon Ross, George Reid, Monty Douglas and others.

Aubrey Cummings Passes On

“Not only a musician of a generation, he is a cultural hero”- Vibert Cambridge

The Guyanese entertainment industry is in mourning for the late musician, Aubrey Cummings. Reports are that the 63-year-old, who died Wednesday night, was found slumped over the steering wheel of his car, which was parked at the Standard Car Park at Haggatt Hall, Barbados. His demise is believed to be as a result of a heart attack. Cummings was a guitarist, vocalist, and a bandleader.

Reports are that the car that Cummings was driving suddenly stopped outside a shop at approximately 19:00hrs. According to one woman’s report, she closed her shop for the day and was about to leave when she noticed the driver slumped forward in the car. She summoned the police. Based in Barbados for about 20 years, Cummings is remembered for his smooth renditions of songs such as ‘A flower named June’ and ‘Annalee.’ A relative said the entertainer would be laid to rest in Barbados.

On January 18, 2004, Vibert C. Cambridge Ph.D, writing in the Stabroek News, described Aubrey Cummings as ‘A Musician of a Generation’ whose experience provided valuable insights into the dynamics of Guyanese society during the late colonial period and the early post-independence era.

According to Cambridge’s article, Cummings’ experiences also provide a useful lens to look at the place of music in Guyanese society. Born in 1947, Cummings grew up in the Alberttown/Queenstown community and attended Queenstown Roman Catholic Primary School. There, Cummings developed a reputation as an artist. He loved to draw. He would draw on anything he could find including the small squares of brown paper that were used to package the rice and sugar and on the back of old calendars.

These drawings would be displayed on the school’s walls. However, it was music and not art that made Cummings a household name in Guyana during the 1960s and 1970s, it was his music.

His decision to develop a career in pop music was influenced by Michael Bacchus and the Heartbreakers. In Cambridge’s article, Cummings navigated alleyways and “bored” through palings from Crown Street to visit the group’s rehearsals at a house in Anira Street, Queenstown. Among the members of Bacchus’s band were Johnny Braff and Compton Edwards. The magic of popular music and show business excited him, so he took up the guitar and became a self-taught guitarist.

Cummings first joined the ‘Bumble and the Saints’ band in 1965 during the string band era when Guyanese string bands and musicians attracted attention in the Caribbean. In 1965, Bumble and the Saints toured Barbados with Johnny Braff with moderate success.

On his return from that island; Cummings joined Joe Wong and the Dominators as a guitarist. In 1972, Cummings responded to an opportunity provided by Ossie Redman to travel to Brazil with the Telstars International Band. As the bandleader he toured Manaus during 1972 and 1973. The band included Gerald Couchman (drums), Cummings on guitar, Monty Douglas (composer and arranger), Derry Etkins (organ), Billy Stephenson (Congos), Ray Seales (sax and vocals), Terry Jervis (trumpet), Colin “Bumble” Wharton (bass guitar), and Phil “Bumpy” Dino as the vocalist.

In 1973, Telstars International toured Barbados and recorded the important album ‘Orbiting’, which included songs such as “So lucky” and “World of Tomorrow.”

In July 1975, Cummings went on an adventure. He hitchhiked to Brazil. The adventure started with a plane flight from Ogle Airstrip to Lethem. He had recalled the Kabwowra flies that welcomed the hitchhiking party—one female and four males—to Lethem. The party crossed the Takutu River into Bom Fin and hitched hiked to Manaus and then to Rio de Janeiro, a distance of almost 3,000 miles. From Rio, Cummings went on to Brasilia. He spent a few months there playing with Brazilian bands and as a solo artist at various clubs. He returned to Guyana in December 1975 ready for another engagement with popular music in Guyana.

In Barbados, Cummings established an active musical career as guitarist and vocalist. There he recorded the hit “A Flower named June,” followed by “Think I’m in Love,” “Analie,” and the “Children of Sanchez.”

For Carifesta 1981, he composed the song “West Indian People”, which has been covered by choral groups in the West Indies and Germany.

In 1984 and again in 1985, Cummings won the Best Male Vocalist Award in Barbados. During the same period, he consistently won prizes at the Caribbean Song Festivals organized by the Caribbean Broadcasting Union.

As Professor Cambridge aptly described the outstanding son of the soil, “Aubrey Cummings is not only a musician of a generation, he is a cultural hero.”

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