That unforgettable smile: Eddy DeMello’s effortless charm helped to bring big names in the music business to our shores, from Stevie Wonder to Bryon Lee. He died this week at the age of 75. *2010 file photo by Ras Mykkal
That unforgettable smile: Eddy DeMello’s effortless charm helped to bring big names in the music business to our shores, from Stevie Wonder to Bryon Lee. He died this week at the age of 75. *2010 file photo by Ras Mykkal
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One of Bermuda’s most well known and best-loved characters, Eddy DeMello, died this week. 

The following article was written by former Bermuda Sun journalist Meredith Ebbin, who was commissioned to write Mr DeMello’s biography by the Bermuda Arts Council. We print it here with the kind permission of the Council, which retains the copyright. It includes small edits necessitated by his passing.


 

Eddy DeMello was not a musician, but he has made a significant contribution to Bermuda’s music scene.

He combined his passion for music and his business acumen to become a record store owner, record producer and one of Bermuda’s most successful concert promoters.

The Music Box, where he started out as a salesman and which he owned since the 1960s, has been a treasure trove for music lovers of all genres, from classical to country.

While other concert promoters have come and gone, he staged high-calibre shows for more than 40 years, an impressive track record for a local impresario. Stevie Wonder and Ray Charles are among the big-name acts he brought in.

Since the 1960s, he produced numerous recordings by Bermudian musicians on his EDMAR and Duane labels. Making records was more a of labour of love than a money-making pursuit, but in doing so, he helped preserve the music of countless entertainers, among them Michael Clarke, Stan Seymour, Gene and Pinky Steede, and the Bermuda Strollers for posterity.

In addition, DeMello was for many years the main spokesman for Bermuda’s Portuguese community. He served as an interpreter in the courts, at the police station and government offices, hosted a Portuguese-language radio show for 30 years and was president of Vasco da Gama Club for 17 years, from 1967 to 1984. He was also a member of the Portuguese Cultural Centre Committee and served on the Committee for Long-Term Residents.

Farming

Born Manuel Edward DeMello in SanMiguel, Azores, and known as Eddy DeMello, he arrived in Bermuda in September 1949, two months before his 12th birthday, with his parents Manuel and Maria DeMello and younger sister Mary (now Correira) and brother William. A fourth child, Joseph, was born in Bermuda.

The family lived in Smith’s Parish and his father worked on a farm. Mr DeMello attended Dellwood School, but his father took him out after just two years to help him on the farm. Mr DeMello’s days were spent either cultivating crops or selling them. Evenings found him working with his mother at Deepdene Manor Hotel in Smith’s as a “roll boy”, turning down guest  beds.  The walk home after work was a hard slog — mother and son would each carry two buckets filled with leavings from the kitchen, which they fed to their pigs. 

His father later purchased the farm, but he eventually turned his back on farming and became a bus driver. Eddy found work as a waiter at Angel’s Grotto. It was at that small hotel, located on the water’s edge in Smith’s Parish just east of Devil’s Hole, where he was first exposed to music.

Driving force

Angel’s Grotto was popular with tourists, who packed the place on Bermuda Nights to enjoy performances by calypsonian Kingsley Swan, dancer Winky Tatem and others. Mr DeMello was captivated.

He eventually moved on to other jobs, but music would become the driving force in his life. His father bought him a guitar and he took lessons from Hubert Smith Sr. But Mr DeMello put his guitar aside when he came to the realisation that he would never be as good as his idols Les Paul and Nelson Eddy.

The late 1950s found him working as a short order cook. He often spent his lunch hours at the Music Box listening to records.  One day the owner, cellist Max Lambert, offered him a job. He took it, and stayed for good.

The store, which has changed location several times since its early beginnings on Reid Street, Hamilton, retains a loyal following even in the digital era. Mr DeMello eventually purchased the business; he also owned the building that houses the store, which is now located further along Reid Street, across the road from his beloved Vasco da Gama Club.

Promoter

Mr 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 brought in since include gospel singer Mahalia Jackson and Andrew Crouch, Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles, jazz pianist Jimmy Smith and the calypsonian Mighty Sparrow. He also promoted boxing events.

A chance meeting in Miami with veteran Jamaican soca entertainer Byron Lee proved a winner for both men. Mr Lee decided to take a chance on Bermuda, according to Mr DeMello, and over a span of 15 years until 2007, Bryon Lee and the Dragonaires performed to enthusiastic crowds at Tiger Bay, St. George’s every August.

Mr 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 Mr DeMello’s expertise at staging such events.

Other more recent acts include the Portuguese singer Emanuel, who performed here in 2006, followed by the Brazilian singing duo Lucas and Matheus in 2007 and Barbadian calypsonians the Merrymen in 2008.

Mr 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 studios. He cut numerous records in the years since. He recorded school choirs, gospel groups and even made a tree frog recording because tourists kept asking for it.

Recognition of his contribution to the Portuguese community came in 1979 when he was awarded Commander of the Order of Prince Henry.

In 1988, he was also awarded the Queen’s Certificate and Badge of Honour and received a second award for his service in 2006 for his service as a member of the Bermuda Independence Commission.

In 2004, Government’s Department of Community and Cultural Affairs honoured him when he was selected as one of the Grand Marshalls in the Bermuda Day parade.

DeMello’s widow is Elsie Martin and their Smith’s Parish home features a guitar-shaped swimming pool. Their son, Duane, is a talented guitarist who attended Boston’s Berklee School of Music. Married with one daughter, Duane DeMello lives in Florida.

Eddy DeMello’s death at the age of 75 will be sorely felt by friends and loved ones far and wide.