Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh revealed that his favourite pop song is ‘Yellow Bird’. He asked The Melody Makers, a West Indian steel band to play the tune as he toured a Lewisham Boys’ Club. Drummer Cecil Mose said: “I asked him if thay was his favourite and he gave a big smile and said ‘yes’ so we obliged’. The Band which is usually seven strong was reducered to four to fit into the Thurston Road Hall. This was on a visit reported in the Evening News, 23 May 1979.

The song yellow bird is thought to have originated from a Haitian poem by Oswald Durand which became known as “Choucoune”. This was set to music by Michel Mauleart Monton in 1883. He was born in the U.S. (New Orleans) of mixed parents (Haitian father, American mother) and was a noted pianist. Durand wrote the poem about a young “marabou” woman nicknamed Choucoune from La Plaine du Nord whose name was Marie Noel Belizaire.

As Dr. Gage Averill says: “However, if you look far and wide at Caribbean Creole cultures, you will find similar songs (for example the same melody animating certain 19th century Trinidadian carisos and romances: “Balon monte, balon desan, balon tonbe nan dlo”) but more directly it is a French “berceuse” or cradle song. Jean Fouchard links the Monton melody and the Durand words to the early meringue: “Ti zwazo, kote ou prale/ Ma prale, kay FilËt Lalo/FilËt Lalo konn manje timoun/Si w ale, l’a manje ou tou” and he further states that this meringue derives from the old French chanson d’Anjou “Non, non, non je ne marierai pas” which has the same chorus melody as “Choucoune”.”

“This should not surprise us (nor should it diminish the compositional achievements of Durand & Monton) because this type of appropriation was the norm in the 19th century. . . tunes and lyric fragments were routinely borrowed for new compositions and this was not considered an unethical practice.”

The Duke of Edinburgh was the patron of the London Federation of Boys Clubs – one of his first patronages. Bellingham had a Boys Club – in fact it still does but now gender neutral – the site of the Bellingham Gateway Leisure Centre and The Gateway Youth Centre where Lewisham’s youth service has its HQ. In these difficult times youth services have never been more important. Lewisham Music are based in the Fellowship & Star opposite which is fitting. Our green spaces, education & youth services and cultural heritage are linked and changing that is why understanding our history and surroundings is so important.

The Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme is a well respected youth programme that spans 144 counties around the world.

“When the first trial of the Award was launched in 1942, no one had any idea quite what would happen. In the event, it was an instant success, and the Award has been growing and expanding worldwide ever since.”  – HRH The Duke of Edinburgh, KG, KT

A newspaper cutting that mentions Prince Philip’s visit to Bellingham on 23rd May 1979

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