Hubert Smith May 9, 1918-December 3, 2001 Musician, bandleader, songwriter
One of Bermuda’s top entertainers during the golden era of tourism, Hubert Smith serenaded thousands of tourists, performed for princes and presidents, and wrote countless songs, including his classic, Bermuda is Another World.
Smith, whose career spanned more than half a century, started out entertaining locals at Colonial Opera House on Victoria Street, Hamilton. When hotels opened up to black Bermudian entertainers after the Second World War, he made the transition to the lucrative hotel circuit. Smith was able to earn his living working full-time as an entertainer for most of his life, although the era when tourists were clamouring for local entertainment had drawn to an end towards the end of his career.
Smith was raised in a musical household. His father, Aubrey, was a fisherman and a keen amateur musician and collector of musical instruments. There were weekend jam sessions at the family home in Spanish Point. By the age of six, Smith had made his own guitar. He also wrote musical ditties as a child and took violin lessons.
When he left school at age 13, he became an apprentice baker. He later worked as a mechanic and as a pilot of tourist tour boats. He never put music aside. Working nights as a stage hand at Opera House exposed him to all facets of performing from tap dancing to singing, and also to the talents of top musicians, among them Lance Hayward.
Band leader Mark Williams gave him his first professional job as a vocalist after hearing him sing. Williams encouraged Smith to take up an instrument. For three years, he took guitar lessons from a musician who worked on the Queen of Bermuda, which called in at Bermuda each week.
He later studied music composition with Williams. He went on to work as a singer with Kenny Iris’ 12-piece band and later joined Al Davis’ band at Belmont hotel.
But by 1948, sensing a change in musical tastes, Smith immersed himself with the sounds of calypso. One of the first calypso songs he wrote was Green Ticket, about female tourists who would supposedly be ticketed by police if their shorts were too brief.
Around 1951, he formed his own band Hubert Smith and the Coral Islanders, which took its name from the hotel where he was based, Coral Island in Flatts. The band really took off after it moved to Clay House Inn.
Its popularity led to an offer in 1958 to replace the foreign band at Princess Hotel in Hamilton. Management wanted Smith and his group to swop their colourful calypso shirts for dinner jackets, but after an argument that went on for about six weeks, the Coral Islanders won the day.
They remained at Princess until the early 1960s, when they moved to other hotels. Between 1962 and 1972, Hubert Smith and his Coral Islanders performed in the U.S., Canada and the U.K as part of the annual marketing blitzes, known as briefing tours, organised by the Department of Tourism. He wrote Bermuda Is AnotherWorld in 1969 for a briefing tour. Band members changed over the years, but included his two sons Hubert Jr. and George.
Smith could also add television appearance to his resumé. He provided the music for the series Crunch and Des, which ran from 1955-1956, and sang in the 1958 series Adventures of the Sea Hawk. Both were U.S. productions that were filmed at Darrell’s Island.
Actors Clark Gable, Gary Cooper and U.S. president John Kennedy, when he was a young and unknown midshipman, were among those who heard him perform over the years. Royalty he met included Queen Elizabeth II, Princess Margaret and Prince Charles.
He received numerous awards including the Queen’s Certificate and Badge of Honour. Smith, who performed well into the 1980s, was also the long-time president of the musicians’ union.
At the time of his death, many of Bermuda’s musicians had become victims of changing economic times and musical tastes and struggled to find regular work.
Smith belonged to the generation of musicians that reaped rewards from the thriving tourism industry. He made numerous recordings and left an indelible mark on the music scene.