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Home Singers Frank Holder

Frank Holder

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Frank Holder (born is a fabulous entertainer and something of a legend in London showbiz circles. He began his career in England as the original vocalist with The Johnny Dankworth Seven, Britain’s premier jazz group at the time. After a successful period with the band, Frank decided to strike out on his own, auditioning replacements until he found Cleo Laine, whose association with Johnny Dankworth remains constant to today. Meanwhile, Frank’s solo career blossomed and led to a number of headlining shows at The London Palladium.

Frank Holder has been described as a "fabulous entertainer and something of a legend in London's showbiz circles." He is known as a versatile vocal stylist and an accomplished percussionist, playing the bongo and Congo drums.

Holder, who was born on April 2, 1925, in British Guiana, grew up in Georgetown. His parents were Cyril Edward and Ursula Emelia Holder (nee Capadose). His father was widely regarded as a very skilled motor mechanic who was at one time responsible for the Wieting and Richter fleet.

Frank Holder's musical career has extended over 70 years and its roots are to be found in the musical environment in which he grew up. There was music everywhere. Music in the church, on the radio, on recordings, in the cinema, and in dance halls.

Like his older brother Dunsford, Holder was a member of the Christ church choir, which was conducted by Mr H N Chapman- Edwards, who was also the organist.

During the 1930s, British Guiana was a multi-channel radio environment. Guyanese were able to listen to musical programmes from the United States and the United Kingdom and the local stations - VP3BG and VP3MR.

Holder stated that he was an avid listener to American music. He was influenced by the vocal styles of Frank Sinatra, Perry Como, Mel Torme, and Billy Eckstein, who became one of his close friends. He was also impressed with the achievements of the London-based Guyanese swing band leader, Ken 'Snakehips' Johnson.

Holder's father was also a dance promoter. This provided young Frank with opportunities to sing with local bands. In the late 1930s, the top bands included The Ambassadors, Bert Rogers and His Aristocrats Dance Orchestra, Harry-Banks's Orchestra, the Blue Rhythm Swing Orchestra, Clem Clarke and his Gaiety Swing Orchestra, Jack James and His Jazz Kings, Lew Spencer's Rhythm Stompers Orchestra, Charles Smith and His Lucky Strike Orchestra, and Al Seales and his Washboard Swing Orchestra.

Holder was also influenced by Bill Rogers and local drumming. He developed a love for vocalizing, especially scatting and the ability to improvise on any given melody. In 1944, Holder left British Guiana for the United Kingdom to join the Royal Air Force.

England

His idol Ken 'Snakehips' Johnson had died before Holder arrived in the UK. However, his love for music, especially swing music, did not wane. As a serviceman he attended many concerts and dances, especially those that featured Leslie 'Jiver' Hutchinson and His Coloured Orchestra. Often, on dares from his buddies, he would sing with the band.

"I followed 'Jiver' Hutchinson's band during the war. Sometimes I would travel up to 50 miles for a show and dance," said Holder. "I pestered Hutchinson for opportunities to sing."

At the end of World War II, 'Jiver' Hutchinson's lead singer returned to Barbados, and Holder was invited to join the band. He travelled across the United Kingdom with the band for almost a decade.

In 1956, Holder left the band so he could spend more time with his family and sharpen his skills. He joined the Mecca organization and became a regular performer at the Lyceum and the Paramount in London.

This allowed him to visit jazz clubs such as the Marquee and the Sunset to 'consume' the jazz ambience and sharpen his improvisational singing styles. He rapidly became known as Britain's leading be-bop' vocal stylist.

This success led to an invitation to join Britain's premier jazz band - The John Dankworth Seven band. He stayed with the band for an extended period and still maintains a very close relationship with John Dankworth. Cleo Laine joined the group a year after him.

Holder also performed in the theatre, night clubs, and song festivals. His participation in song festivals took him across Europe. He developed a very special relationship with the Scottish Symphony Orchestra. He performed in the Proms with the orchestra and the BBC Chorus.

He worked with Professor Millers of York University who composed Yebeche, a special piece for Holder to demonstrate his versatility as a vocal improviser.

Holder's work won him critical acclaim. The Scottish Clubs Federation named him the 'Best Cabaret Artist.' He also received awards from song festivals held in Bulgaria, Chile, and Yugoslavia.

Holder was recognized as a versatile musician who could perform in several genres.

Calypso singer

In the mid-1950s, the world experienced the second wave of calypso popularity. Around that time, Denis Preston, the British music entrepreneur, approached Holder with a calypso project.

According to Holder, Preston's company was looking for someone who could sing calypsos in a style that was more accessible to the British audience. After some resistance, Holder took up the challenge and released two memorable LPs - Calypso Time with Frank Holder and Frank Holder Sings Calypso. These albums, recorded during the mid-1950s, sold very well and reaffirmed Holder's stature as a versatile entertainer.

One of the calypsos on the Frank Holder Sings Calypso album was Bill Roger's Nice Woman, Ugly Man.

The calypso phase was also associated with the popularity of Latin American music in London, and Holder was part of this cross-fertilization.

He collaborated with British musicians such as Kenny Graham, and Roberto Ingles. It was during this phase that Holder's percussion skills blossomed.

In addition to being an outstanding musician, Holder is recognized as a Guyanese who helped other Guyanese musicians. London-based Guyanese trumpeter Rannie Hart thanks Holder for helping him to develop his musical career in London.

Current work

Holder still has an active life as a performer and musical innovator. In recent years, he has collaborated with the Flamenco guitarist Emilio Maya, and the jazz pianist Ray d'Inverno.

He still performs at venues such as Club 606 in Chelsea, London. Holder's current repertoire includes "a mixture of jazz tunes and popular classics performed with a vigour that belies his years. Sinatra standards, Burt Bacharach tunes, swing and easy listening melodies all make an appearance."

When I interviewed Holder on December 21, 2004, he had just completed the annual Christmas concert with the Johnny Dankworth Orchestra at The Stables, Wavendon.

For more than 70 years, music has been an important aspect of Holder's life. His relatives have also been musical achievers. His elder brother Dunsford was at one time considered the top soloist with the Christ church Choir.

His brother Herschel is recognized as an innovative trumpeter and was the leader of the British Band 'FBI.' His 'baby' brother is Ovid Holder.

His cousin is Ramjohn Holder.

Holder and his wife Irene have three children: Frank Roderick Jr, Desiree and Lisa. The children are all musical but have not become professional musicians.

Holder has made many recordings. He considers Frank Holder sings Calypso, Paz/Latin Funk, Carousel (A double CD with music written by Duncan Malone and also featuring Nancy Morano); Fast Jazz, Fast Women and Astons, and Castel, Frank and Stan some of his important works.

When he reflects on his musical career - the choir at Christ Church, the dances at Haley Hall, the classical concerts, the masquerade bands, the songs he sang with Leslie 'Jiver' Hutchinson, the calypsos of Bill Rogers - Holder considers it to have been one hell of an exciting journey. He is planning something major for his 80th birthday on April 2, 2005.

Sources

Telephone interview (Vibert Cambridge & Valerie Wilmer), December 20, 2004

Telephone interview (Vibert Cambridge & Rannie Hart), December 20, 2004

Telephone interview (Vibert Cambridge & Frank Holder), December 21, 2004

The CD, Black British Swing: The African Diaspora's Contribution to England's Own Jazz of the 1930s and 1940s. (National Sound Archives-TSCD781) has examples of the music of Ken 'Snakehips' Johnson and Leslie 'Jiver' Hutchinson.

 


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