Lifestyle

See Mildred shine on early TV

  • Moment to shine: Mildred Blyden Davis won a singing competition and performed the popular song Ragg Mopp on television in the United States on April 8, 1950 on jazz and pop pioneering bandleader Paul Whiteman’s TV Teen Club, a popular dance and talent show. She later had a successful career performing in Bermuda before retiring and joining a church (Photograph by Jessie Moniz Hardy)

Mildred Blyden Davis was a singing sensation in 1950s Bermuda.

At 15, Mildred Iris stole the limelight as a last-minute entry in a talent competition and won the opportunity to perform on radio and television in the United States.

Back in Bermuda, she headlined acts at hotels and clubs for years.

It all started with a teen talent show her sister, Marie Pitts, entered at the Colonial Opera House on Victoria Street.

Then “a shy person”, Ms Davis refused to sign up, but agreed to go along for moral support.

“All our friends from Sunday school were there,” she said. “We all sat in the back.”

When her sister got on stage, she couldn’t hit the right pitch and all their friends laughed. Ms Davis, who had done a bit of singing in church, felt she had to do something to save the family honour.

She marched to the front of the room and put her name down.

“When they called my name, I was frightened, frightened,” she said. “I didn’t know what I was going to sing.

“I had not planned anything. But I remembered the night before on the radio, I’d heard this song Ragg Mopp. It was a catchy song.”

The teenager started singing and the room went wild.

“They carried on, and carried on,” she laughed.

The performance got her a place in the finals a few days later.

She didn’t want to go but her father, Samuel Ray, said she had to.

It put her head-to-head with the late Rodney Tucker.

“He was a nephew of the Talbot Brothers and very talented,” Ms Davis said. “He played some boogie-woogie on the piano.”

But in the end, she won and went off to Philadelphia to sing Ragg Mopp on Paul Whiteman’s TV Teen Club, a popular dance and talent show.

“I was OK because the song began to be a part of me,” said Ms Davis, who placed second and won a watch and some shoe cleaning products.

No one in Bermuda got to see her April 8, 1950 performance, because few people then had a television, but the show was played over the radio.

She returned home to a hero’s welcome.

Young people held Ragg Mopp parties in her honour, and for years, she was known as “Mrs Ragg Mopp”.

“I came back and worked everywhere,” the 85-year-old said.

She sang with the Al Harris Band, with calypso singer Celeste Robinson and at Angel’s Grotto.

“I was singing every night,” she said. “That was a full-time job.”

She married Clint Blyden when she was 17.

“He was much older than me,” she said. “He would put on shows.

She added: “He was a bebop kind of man. He taught me how to dance.”

They had three children together Victor, Charolette and Shirley Blyden.

He died and she married Leonard Hilgrove Davis, who has also passed away.

Ms Blyden Davis grew up in Pembroke.

Her mother, Odessa Iris, died when she was little.

She was raised largely by her grandmother, also called Odessa Iris, a staunch member of the Salvation Army who sent Ms Davis and her siblings to Sunday school at the church.

She drifted away from the church as her career heated up, but then her children became friends with a member of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

“They wanted to join and they were all baptised,” she said. “At that time, I thought they could be doing a whole lot of bad things, but instead, they were going to church.

“I wanted to support them. I couldn’t let them be there on their own.”

In 1972, she announced she wouldn’t perform any more.

Local entertainers were shocked; many pointed out that she could work and also worship.

“I told them I wouldn’t be singing any more. I wanted to encourage my children. So I did.”

She worked at ER Aubrey Jewellers for 23 years and then opened a hair store, Wig City, on Court Street. It closed seven years ago.

Although she missed entertaining a little bit, church gave her several opportunities to sing. She is now a deaconess at the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Hamilton.

“I try to keep busy all the time and help any way I can,” she said. “I take up meals for people in need at the church on Wednesday nights.”

She also loves spending time with her five grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.

Lifestyle profiles the island’s senior citizens every Tuesday. Contact Jessie Moniz Hardy on 278-0150 or jmhardy@royalgazette.com with their full name, contact details and the reason you are suggesting them