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Sunday, November 16, 2008

Beryl McBurnie (La Belle Rosette) 

An interesting article in the current issue [the link might need updating soon] of Caribbean Beat on Calypso performer, Beryl McBurnie (stage name La Belle Rosette). McBurnie, who was a star in 1940s New York, was a strong influence on Katherine Dunham. She debuted during one of Elsie Houston's Coffee Concerts at the Museum of Modern Art; according to the New York Amsterdam News, at least, McBurnie stole the show. Here's the review as posted in the article:
So far, it had been a nice evening of South American Music at the Museum of Modern Art. The audience was remotely polite, applauding the mediocre efforts of the artists at the proper time. But it was an uninspired audience, overburdened by dull music interpreted lugubriously. There hadn’t been a single lift—that is until the curtain parted to reveal Belle Rosette—a slender bronze girl in a flowing and colorful costume—an infectious grin lighting her face.

“She poised there on her toes for a split second and then, at the first beat of the drums from the trio of Haitians huddled in the shadow of the stage, Belle Rosette executed the first sinuous and sensuous movements of the [Shango], a dance she brought from her native Trinidad.

“Excitement ran high. No longer was the audience nice and polite and remote. It completely lost its face and became rowdy in paying obeisance to this girl from Trinidad who completely stole the show from the star. When it quieted down after a third encore, Belle Rosette sang a Calypso song about the Germans surrendering to the British.

She was no longer a dancer—but a minx kidding the life out of the Axis dictators.”

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