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"Since the Yankees came to Trinidad
They have the young girls going mad

The young girls say they treat them nice.

And they give them a better price.

They buy rum and Coca Cola

Go down Point Koomahna"

 

 

Note the correct spelling of Cumana as opposed to Koomahna in the song "Rum and Coca Cola". For full view of the map of Trinidad, please go here

" Rum and Coca Cola" just has to be the best known Calypso of all times, made famous by the Andrews Sisters in the 1940's. It also became a court case against Leo Feist, Inc., the publisher of the song and the alleged composer of it, an American comedian , called Morey Amsterdam. The plaintiff was Maurice Baron, a music expert, who claimed that the song was plagiarized from a book published by him called " Calypso Songs of the West Indies", only the song was called "L'Année Passée " and was composed by Lionel Belasco in 1906 !

"L'Année Passée ", meaning "Yesterday" ( lit. Last year ), is the true story of a girl named Mathilda Soye. She was the daughter of a very prominent Trinidad family and was educated at a Convent school. She fell in love with a man "in the street", a "common" fellow, who was no good. She lived with him for some time and then he made her work as a prostitute. The song was written in French Patois and was a lament of the girl on how just the other day she was a little girl and now she was a prostitute, walking the street.
This story became known in 1905 and Lionel Belasco, who was a young man at that time, composed the song "L'Année Passée ", which told that story. It is common practice in Trinidad to compose calypsos dealing with whatever social/political events happened in that year.

In 1941 Lionel Belasco and a singer, Massie Patterson, submitted a group of twelve songs from The West Indies, composed by Lionel Belasco, to Maurice Baron for publishing. Maurice Baron transcribed the music. One of those songs was "L'Anné Passée".
Baron hired one Olga Paul to translate the Patois lyrics into English.
One year later " Rum and Coca Cola" was published, crediting Morey Amsterdam with composing and writing the lyrics for it. Morey Amsterdam claimed that, when he went to Trinidad to perform for the American soldiers on the base at Chaguaramas, he heard the soldier, wo was in the car that transported him, sing a song to  the tune of " It ain't gonna rain no mo"  which inspired him to write " Rum and Coca Cola".

At the trial, the trial lawyer, Louis Nizer, found prominent witnesses on behalf of the plaintiff, among them a Trinidad doctor, Walter Merrick, educated at Howard University. He was a childhood friend of Lionel Belasco's and also a musician and music expert. He testified that Lionel Belasco taught him "L'Année Passée " in 1906, the year he wrote it. Other witnesses also testified that they knew Lionel at that time and that they had learnt the song from him. Lionel Belasco, almost 70 years old at the time of the trial, came from Trinidad and testified. He pointed out that one of the chords Maurice Baron used for "L'Anné Passée " when he transcribed the music was unusual in that it was a "harsh toned" chord, emphasizing the word "fille"(girl) in the song to emphasize the difference between having been a little girl the year before and now being a street walker. The plagiarized "Rum and Coca Cola" also had the same "harsh toned" chord at the same place of the music, but underlining an inappropriate word, the word "feel" from the sentence "They make you feel so glad". This is a "happy" sentence and therefore did not need a dissonant chord. Obviously, the person who plagiarized "L'Année Passée " did not know the meaning of the Patois words and copied the music as it was.

It was established in court through complicated musical comparisons of musical notes and chords of both "L'Année Passée" and "Rum and Coca Cola" that, undoubtedly, the compositions were identical and therefore Lionel Belasco was the original composer of the music. The judgement went in favour of the plaintiff, Maurice Baron, and ordered the defendants "to deliver up for destruction all infringing copies and devices, and all plates, molds , matrices and other matter for making such infringing copies, of plaintiff's said copyrighted song and all parts of musical instruments on which defendants' infringing song, entitled "Rum and Coca Cola" has been transcribed or recorded, and all plates, molds, matrices and other matter for making such infringing parts of such musical instruments". The judgement was appealed against by the defendants in the Circuit Court of Appeals, but they lost there again.

These facts came from a book written by the Trial Lawyer, Louis Nizer. The book is out of print, but you can obtain copies via http://bookfinder.com

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copyright © Ilka Hilton Clarke - all rights reserved. -Last updated: October 8, 2015