THE most comprehensive record of Trinidad folk music in the late 1930s was recently released on CD titled Peter Was A Fisherman, and sub-titled The 1939 Trinidad Field Recordings of Melville and Frances Herskovits, Vol. I.
Melville Herskovits who died in 1963 was born in 1895 to Jewish parents in Ohio. Though interested in music as a child, he studied history at Chicago University and anthropology at Columbia. He married Francis Shapiro in 1924, and in 1935 the couple had a daughter Jean Francis (who subsequently became a professor of African History). And over the 30 years of their life together Melville and Francis Herskovits wrote many books and articles on African culture in the motherland and amongst the disaspora, including The Myth of the Negro Past (1941) which, in demonstrating how much of African culture had survived into the present, founded the discipline of Afro-American studies.
And although Trinidad Village was published in 1947, the research he conducted in Toco in 1939 and the songs he collected then contributed greatly to the ground-breaking Myth of the Negro Past. Those are the songs from which were drawn the 34 tracks on Peter Was A Fisherman.