Eddy DeMello carved a unique place for himself in entertainment as an impresario, entrepreneur and an advocate for the Portuguese community.
His Music Box record store was a treasure trove for music lovers. He recorded Bermudian musicians on his Edmar and Duane labels and brought in name acts for live performances for more than 40 years.
He developed a passion for music as a child growing up in the Azores and became a serious fan of country music during his teenage years in Bermuda.
He tried unsuccessfully to master the guitar, but it remained his favourite instrument. The guitar-shaped swimming pool at his Smith’s Parish home was his pride and joy.
Manuel Edward “Eddy” DeMello was born in São Miguel, the Azores, the eldest of Manuel and Maria DeMello’s four children. He came to Bermuda two months before his 12th birthday. (In some interviews, DeMello said he came to Bermuda at the age of 10.)
His father had been a farm worker in Bermuda for nine years, but returned to the Azores because the Island’s strict immigration policy did not allow his family to join him.
A change in the policy not long after his father’s return led to a fresh job offer from his old employer. In September 1949, he arrived here with his parents, brother William and sister Mary. A fourth child, Joseph, was later born in Bermuda.
The three DeMello children entered Dellwood School, speaking not a word of English.
He recalled in Bermuda Recollections: “We attended government school and each one of us was put in a completely different class. There was no one we could really communicate with or understand. At first we just sat there. It took a while to get the language.” He eventually became fully bilingual, never losing his fluency in Portuguese.
DeMello grew up in Devil’s Hole, Smith’s Parish, where the Eve farm that his father worked was located. He had less than two years of schooling in Bermuda because his father took him out of Dellwood to help him on the farm.
DeMello attributed his 12-hour work days to a childhood that left little time for play. He worked days on the farm, and evenings with his mother at Deepdene Hotel.
Despite being raised in an era when some Portuguese-Bermudians sought to hide their ancestry because of prejudice and a desire to assimilate, he never forgot his roots.
In time, he would become an interpreter for the courts and the police, and host of a Portuguese-language radio show for 30 years.
Government officials sought his advice on matters affecting the Portuguese community, immigration and Portuguese language lessons in schools being key issues. He was president of Vasco da Gama Club from1967 to 1984.
Recognition of his contribution came in 1979 when he was awarded a Comendador da Ordem do Infante Dom Henrique (Knight Commander in the Order of Prince Henry the Navigator) by the Government of Portugal.
Subsequent to that, he was a member of the Coalition for Long-Term Residents, which was established in 2000 in a bid to obtain permanent residency status for non-Bermudians. The majority of those who fell into this category were from the Caribbean and the Azores. The Coalition achieved success in 2002 with passage of a law granting permanent residency status to hundreds of long-term residents.
Music was a major force in DeMello’s life since early childhood, beginning with the bands he heard playing on feast days in São Miguel.
During his teenage years, DeMello was exposed to Bermudian calypsonians while working as a waiter at Angel’s Grotto, a popular Smith’s Parish nightclub.
In his spare time, he listened to country music on the radio and inspired by guitarists like Duane Eddy took guitar lessons for a time.
His father eventually gave up farming and became a bus driver and DeMello found work in Hamilton. He worked as a short order cook and later in a hardware store.
He spent lunch hours at the Music Box, a store owned by a German cellist Max Lambert and his wife. He became such a fixture there the Lamberts began seeking his advice for their weekly record orders. When that led to a job offer, his fate was sealed.
In 1954, at age 17, he was taken on by the Lamberts. When Max Lambert retired in 1974, DeMello bought the business.
The Music Box moved several times, before ending up at its current location across the road from the Vasco da Gama Club on Reid Street.
With DeMello at the helm, it became the Island’s largest record store. DeMello stocked recordings of every genre, from classical to calypso. If it wasn’t on the shelves, he would special order it. When top artists performed in Bermuda, DeMello made sure to have their records in the store.
Demand for records were so strong DeMello owned three record stores at one point. Things changed with the onset of new technology. But while record store after record store closed down, victims of digital downloads from the Internet, Music Box managed to outlast the completion and remain in business.
DeMello began bringing in international acts in the 1960s when he presented a concert by Portuguese fada singer Amália Rodrigues. The list of headliners he promoted during the 60s, 70s and 80s included gospel singers Mahalia Jackson and Andraé Crouch, Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles, Jimmy Smith and calypsonian The Mighty Sparrow.
Promoting professional boxing and wrestling matches, live or closed-circuit television, was also a sideline.
He enjoyed live shows in his favourite vacation spot, entertainment mecca Las Vegas, which he once described as “the closest thing to heaven”.
A chance meeting in Miami with veteran Jamaican soca entertainer Byron Lee proved a winner for both men. Lee decided to take a chance on Bermuda, according to DeMello, and over a span of 15 years until 2007, Bryon Lee and the Dragonaires performed outdoors to enthusiastic crowds at Tiger Bay, St. George’s every August (except in 2004 and 2006 when Lee pulled out because of illness).
Bryon Lee, who died in 2008, described Tiger Bay as a “pearl of a venue” with a good security and sound system and no drugs or violence—a tribute to DeMello’s expertise at staging such events.
In later years, bringing in US headliners proved a challenge because of the high costs involved. In 2006, Portuguese singer Emanuel performed, followed by the Brazilian singing duo Lucas and Matheus in 2007 and Barbadian calypsonians The Merrymen in 2008.
DeMello ventured into record production in 1960, the year he was inspired to make a Portuguese-language recording of Never on Sunday, a song from the hit movie of the same name that was released that year. Maria Cabral was the singer and the song was recorded at ZBM.
He cut numerous records in the years since. He recorded school choirs, gospel groups and even made a tree frog recording because he said tourists kept asking for one.
He produced numerous recordings by Bermudian musicians on his Edmar and Duane labels, among them Michael Clarke, Stan Seymour, Gene and Pinky Steede, the Bermuda Strollers and the Savages. He even recorded on island the first and only album of a US rock band, the Weads.
DeMello married his first wife Maria Medeiros in 1958. Their son Duane, named for his favourite guitarist Duane Eddy, was born in 1962. The couple would later divorce.
His second wife is Elsie Martin DeMello. DeMello was a two-time recipient of the Queen’s Certificate and Badge of Honour. He received the first in 1988 and the second in 2006 for his service as a member of the Bermuda Independence Commission.
In 2004, he was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Bermuda Arts Council.
DeMello died on March 6, 2013. Tributes paid to him in Parliament, where news of his death was announced, were an indication of the respect he garnered from all segments of the community.
Cabinet Minister Trevor Moniz said: “His reach was amazing for someone who arrived here at a very young age—he spent only a very few years in Dellwood School before he went into the workforce and he was one of those people in the community who grew up milking the cows in the morning before going to school. So he was a fine example to everyone in the community, very well-liked and respected, and a friend and mentor to myself.”
Opposition MP and radio station owner Glenn Blakeney said: “We worked together at the Bermuda Broadcasting Company, and of course he was one of the most successful entertainment entrepreneurs in the country.
“We had a very good relationship and whenever I did a record promotion, Eddy’s Music Box was the single store that sold the most copies. Unbelievable.”
US-based Bermudian musician Stefan Hinds posted online: “There are hundreds of musicians in Bermuda who would have never even seen the light of day professionally if it was not for the largesse and empathy of Eddy. A well-known promoter in sports and music, Eddy had limitless contacts and access to all well known artists and promoters around the world. His contribution to the ‘local’ music scene in the way of recordings and pictures will probably never be rivalled.”
DeMello was a successful entrepreneur whose other business interests included part-ownership in Queen Street Liquors.
But it was his entertainment prowess for which he will be most remembered. He was not the Island’s only successful impresario by any means, but no one matched him in terms of longevity and level of success.