There is probably a rather simple reason why Winston Churchill would remember a song he heard in the Bahamas in 1932. And even more interestingly, to be heard singing it when he left. It all has to do with association. The meaning behind the song would have resonated with him.
Winston Churchill visited Nassau twice that we know of. Then former chancellor of the British exchequer, Churchill came to Nassau in 1932, and again, almost thirty-years later, in 1961 as a former prime minister. The Bahamas helped the former prime minister of Great Britain, recover his strength after being hit by an automobile, while visiting America, in 1931. Recuperating in Nassau, apparently left a big impression on the man, now widely acclaimed to be greatest Briton who has ever lived.
While recuperating in Nassau, Churchill would have savoured native Bahamian food, had carefully measured doses of Bahamian hospitality, and undoubtedly, as it appears be exposed to the heart pounding, leg shaking, joy bringing flavour that is Bahamian music.
Who knows, very possibly, part of Churchill’s recuperation regime, was long leisurely rides around Nassau while smoking his favourite cigar. Any island tours would have included a ride, through the then native negro area of Grants Town.
By 1932, one native Bahamian song, in particular, became both a local and international hit. It appears that the true meaning of the words and melody caught the ear of the great man. Other than the very easy to dance to beat of the song, there was probably another important reason why the tune resonated with Churchill, its words remaining with him.
“Mama Don’t Want No Rice, No Peas, No Cocoanut Oil”
‘Mama don’t want no rice…’ was being played everywhere in the 1930s. The song originated during the rationing of food, in the Bahamas, during World War I. Many do not realise the sacrifices Britain’s West Indian colonies made to help, what was then, the Mother Country, win her European war with Germany. In fact, England’s war was the Empire’s war, and the Bahamas was most certainly then part of the Empire.
If Churchill was made privy to the origins of the song, which he most certainly was during his two week stay in Nassau, the underlying story of rationing, war and sacrifice, must has resonated with him. Certainly, it resonated to the point where he remembered the words and kept them to him, long after he left the land first founded in the New World, and the island nation which had the second oldest Parliament established under the Westminster system.
It is not far fetched to think that as Winston Churchill wrote the now famous “We will fight on the beaches” speech, that the last few words may have been inspired by his two weeks in Nassau, The Bahamas— the New World
“…and if, which I do not for a moment believe, this island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God’s good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old.”
Part of the We Will Fight On The Beaches Speech by Winston Churchill
(The Windsor Star, Wednesday, September 3, 1943)
With no copyright laws, and no one to tell of its origins, some tried to lay claim to having written it.
L. Wolfe Gilbert is attributed to being the first to write down the lyrics. These songs were undoubtedly heard somewhere in the negro areas of Grants Town, or in the markets where impoverished negroes hawked their wares, in Nassau.
(Brooklyn Eagle, Wednesday, 13 October 1937)
December 1931 – Churchill To Recuperate In The Bahamas
(The Star Tribune, Thursday, 31 December 1931)
1961 – Winston Churchill Arrives in Bahamas Onboard Yacht Owned By Aristotle Onassis
(The Mercury, Friday, 07 April, 1961)
1942 – Churchill Sings The Music of The Bahamas in New York
“Mr Churchill visited Nassau in 1932 leaving a host of legends which are still recounted. The professor of a hearty, if erratic baritone, the British statesman, as are all visitors to Nassau, was a generous patron of the dusky troubadours who sing folk songs, calypso music, and the haunting old melodies of these islands.”
(The Baltimore Sun, Sunday, June 7, 1942)
23 January, 1932 – Churchill Leaves Bahamas for New York
(The Ottawa Citizen, Saturday, 23 January 1932)
1958 – Randolph Churchill, son of Winston Churchill Has A Bad Day in Nassau
(The Des Moines Register, Saturday, 22 February, 1958)
1965 – Lady Churchill Back In London Spending A Month In The Bahamas After The Death Of Winston Churchill
After the death of Winston Churchill on 24 January 1965, Lady Churchill sought time for herself, in the Bahamas.