The work of Austin Ira Destoup (1883-1956), a Bahamian constable, composer and pianist, sits in the British Library, as well as, in the Imperial War Museum, in London.
Austin Ira Destoup was born 10th November 1883 and died 5th September 1956, just shy of his 73rd birthday. Destoup was a Constable as well as part of the Royal Bahamas Police Force. He served as Band Director (1917-1919) and (1921-1935). Destoup was also an organist at St. Agnes Anglican Church.
A copy of Grants’ Town Melodies (1927) by Austin Ira Destoup is part of a vast collection of historical music held at the British Library.
Four original melodies were written and copyrighted by Destoup.
The first melody was the song called, Ballymena.
“Ballymena… Ballymena…Ballymena in de harbour”
The song was written about a real ship, a British steamer ship named Ballymena. It operated, shipping cargo, between Nassau and Miami.
The second melody is called His’up the John B. sail...
“His’up the John B. sail… See how de main-sail set,
Sen’ for de Cap’-en shore, Le’ we go home.”
The song was also written about a boat, the John B. which operated between Nassau and the family islands and Miami.
The third song… is called Do Aun’ Nan-ny.
This song was written about the Great Fire, when the Colonial Hotel burned down in 1921 and all the tourists staying there, only whites at the time, had to run and leave all their belongings.
“Do Aun’ Nan-ny, do Aun’ Nan-ny, Do Aun’ Nan-ny, How de do?
Aye, Aye, Do Aun’ Nan-ny do
De Hotel burn down smack an’ smooth, De white man run an leave he shoes
Aye, Aye Aye—– Do Aun’ Nan-ny do?”
Wilehmenia Johnstone (born 1900) in her book Poems and Prose published in 1973, she writes about 1921 and mentions this song.
“Later I recall the tragedy of the burning of this hotel in the year 1921, when I was a young lady. This disaster wire out the “Colonial,” and represents almost an historic event.
One of our Calypso song writers soon gave us a song on this exciting, albeit distressing event and before long we were dancing to:
“De hotel burn down, smack an’ smooth,
White man gone an’ elf he shoes.”
The fourth song was a spiritual, Spare me an udder year oh Lord.
The song repeats the name Spare me a rud-der year oh Lord several times.
Awake! O Gallant Lads
A Bahamian Recruiting Song for 1917
Awake! I Gallant Lads sits in the Imperial War Museum because it pertains to World War One. The person in the far off background must be Austin Destoup. It is strange but nevertheless understandable that he would not want to be in the foreground of the photo. A coloured man writing a song dedicated to the Colonial Secretary was a lovely gesture. The fact that Destoup was coloured probably cast the song in a different light. As part of the colonial record at that time, the Secretary forwarded it to London as part of the documents pertaining to the Bahamas and in particular, the British West Indian Regiment which consisted of negro soldiers from the commonwealth West Indies exclusively.
Awake! O Gallant Lads was meant to be a recruiting song for Bahamian soldiers to join the battle during World War One.
The note which accompanies the song book, mentions quite emphatically that Destoup was a coloured constable of the Police Force.
“Awake! awake o gallant lads
For there’s so much honour to be had
By joining in the firth for right, Against the tyrants might.
Awake! Awake! O gallant lads,
Won’t you give heed to duty’s call
To arms! to arms! be warriors all, Go! serve your Flag and King
The fight though long will end some day
When we have brought foe to bay.”
The note which accompanied the song book to the museum in London 1917.
Sgt. Austin Ira Destoup, song writer and composer. (Courtesy of CCL Rolle)