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Have you ever heard of Cha-lypso?

In Trinidad in the fifties, Latin music was popular, both mambos and cha cha chas. In fact, many of the earliest steelpan recordings were mambos.

Thus, a crossing of calypso and Latin music was inevitable but when it came in the US just after the Calypso Craze, it had little calypso left. It was called chalypso and excited no interest.

Dick Clark always asked the kids on the most popular teen TV show in the Fifties, American Bandstand, “Can you dance to it?” Calypso never caught on as a social dance during the Calypso Craze even though there certainly was a flurry of efforts by dance instructors across the country to teach it.

The dancers on American Bandstand resorted to dancing cha cha cha steps to calypso records which led to a new dance, the chalypso. The dance was immortalised in the lyrics of Danny and the Junior’s popular doo wop song At the Hop in the verse, “When the record starts spinnin’/ You chalypso and you chicken.” And the dance seems better known because of that one line in the lyric, while the dance itself and the songs about it all have all but disappeared.

An unnamed record company a & r man quoted in Variety expressed concern early on in January of 1957 on whether calypso would catch on in light “of the inability of most kids to dance to that beat. The main strength of rock ‘n roll, of course, has been the dancable beat.” Over the next several months, dance studios struggled to teach people a dance to go along with the calypso records they were buying. In general, these efforts weren’t very successful but one effort did catch on.

According to John A Jackson in his American Bandstand: Dick Clark and the Making of a Rock N Roll Empire, Clark and Tony Mammerella came up with the name “chalypso” after observing Bandstand regulars doing a dance that combined the cha-cha-cha and steps done to calypso tunes. One of the most popular chalypso records was Billy and Lillie’s La De Dah, a song that Clark and Mammerella issued on their own Swan record label.

There was a quick run of “chalypso” songs written and recorded by a variety of artists, mostly obscure ones never heard from again. These ranged from rhythm and blues pioneer Ike Turner (Chalypso Love Cry) —one of the first appearances on record of Tina Turner as a backup singer; obscure artists like Bob Creash (Rockin’ Chalypso); Marsha Renay (Cha-lypso of Love); Eddie Bartel (Cha-lypso Bounce); Denny and the LPs (Slide Cha-lypso); doo wop groups like the Five Sounds and Nobletones (Chalypso Baby); Judy Scott (The Cha-lypso); rockabilly artiste Bob Kelly (South Sea Chalypso); and, rock groups like the Emanons (Chalypso Bop) and Billy Duke and the Dukes (Cha-lypso). The Strollers on their album Swinging Flute In Hi-Fi included Flute Cha-lypso.

Billy & Lillie’s La Dee Dah went to number nine on the pop charts in 1958, none of the others did much ad the chalypso fad was dead in its tracks with the ascendancy of the twist. But even the king of the twist hedged his bets. Chubby Checker had a song called Love Is Strange Chalypso on his first album Twist With Chubby Checker (Parkway 1960). Like that other American Bandstand creation, The stroll, they both left the dance floor rarely to come back. While such ultimate fusion music as soca parang finds favor today, those of you hungering for chalypso have only to go over to youtube to find several examples waiting to be heard and perhaps danced to!

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