The Man Who Sang For The King


Frank A Dennie entered the editorial office. He had an appointment to see me, at the time a lowly journalist on the local newspaper. He must have turned heads when he’d walked down the street, not only because of the warmth of that day, but as I recollect, he was wearing a dapper three-piece suit in a muted brown check the likes of which I’d never seen before, complete with contrasting gaiters that covered his brightly polished shoes. When Frank was shown to my corner desk, I rose to greet him with my outstretched arm. Instinctively with one hand, he removed from his head his crumpled felt hat while simultaneously with the other firmly gripping my hand.

The Royal Southern Singers were a black jazz assemble currently touring the South Island of New Zealand, but looking at this now seated man, he didn’t look particular black. Sure, there was something but if anyone had asked me, I’d said this man was more Chinese than negro. His skin for a start was white, as white as mine, and also his hair was practically straight, perhaps with a slight wave. He’d heard these people could now straighten their hair. If it had been it was good. But the thing that really stood out to the seasoned reporter was Frank’s eyes, they looked almost oriental. That’s one type of race now quite common in these parts, there was no mistaking the eyes.

“So, you’re a negro band?” I asked.

Dennie instantly smiled broadly “Yes we are.”

“You don’t look black, if I may say so?”

“My father was born with lighter skin as was I, but his parents and my mother I can assure you were definitely black.”

I looked down slightly in embarrassment pretending to read my scant notes, quickly changing the subject, “Your band has just started a tour of the South Island, following a well-received tour of Australia on the Tivoli circuit?”

“Yes, we are gathered here for a month,” said Frank, “while we tour both islands, and of course hopefully to similar enthusiastic audiences.”

“Our readers would particularly be interested in hearing about when the band sang for the British King George V.”

“Oh yes, the band was ‘commanded’ to sing before His Majesty. Robert Wilson, Joseph Covington, Crescent Rosemond and I were just the Southern Singers then when we were honoured to perform before him at Buckingham Palace, afterwards he personally granted us the use of the title Royal, so that’s how we became the Royal Southern Singers.”

“Oh, I see, which Royalty were there?”

“King George and most of his royal family, but the most unusual thing was the number of children who had been invited to hear us from palaces for miles around.”

“What did you sing?”

“Mainly a melange of negro melodies.”

“Oh, what does that sound like?”

“Well, they were mostly old-time negro songs.”

Reading my note.

“I’m told something unusual happened at the end of the show?”

“I don’t know how unusual it was, but the King spoke right out loud directly to me saying he’d expected to hear ‘Hitchy Koo,’ which he’d apparently had never heard.”

“You played that song for His Majesty?”

“That was the thing, we couldn’t. The band didn’t know it.”

“So, what happened?”

“It was complete luck, a young man who had been sitting in the audience stepped forward and offered to play the song on the piano for the King …”