Gilbert ‘Bill’ Caisey 1934-2021: A lifelong entertainer
A top Bermudian entertainer whose singing career spanned more than half a century was remembered as a natural performer dedicated to promoting the island’s music.
Gilbert “Bill” Caisey “made his mark when he was 12 by telling a fib and getting into a club”, according to his daughter, singer Tianja Bean.
“He gave a performance that blew everybody’s mind,” Ms Bean said. “That started it.”
At 17, Mr Caisey assembled the Quintones, his first singing group, in his grandmother's living room – and entered a competition in Harlem’s famed Apollo Theatre where the group came second.
Ms Bean said the performance “put Bermuda on the map in a major way”.
“The doors swung so wide open that a lot more people saw the market in music and the camaraderie between Bermuda and New York.”
A former member of the Mellotones, Brown Sugar, and the late Don Gibson's Holiday Island Review, Mr Caisey hailed from a family of dedicated musicians whose combined talents built a “musical empire” in Bermuda, Ms Bean said on Friday.
“His family is renowned for contributing to the industry. The Caisey family has a legacy now over four generations.”
As a performer in the Holiday Island Review with family members such as Gene Steede and Pinky Steede, Ms Bean said her father became a leading member of “a beautifully put together, professional group that spring-boarded a lot of people as professional entertainers”.
Ms Bean added: “He was a charmer who knew no strangers – every single person that passed him on the street, he spoke to. The charm was so genuinely from the heart; he was really old school Bermuda.
“His stage personality was his real existence, not something he put on when he got on stage.”
She said her father was also a stickler, who insisted on punctuality, tidy clothes and thorough playing.
“Daddy was a perfectionist. If you messed up on stage, he would be strict like James Brown. He took his profession seriously and he knew only the best would do, especially if you wanted to go outside the country.”
In his travels, Mr Caisey became lifelong friends with bands such as the Drifters.
Dale Butler, a music historian and former government minister for culture, called him “debonair and always immaculately dressed”.
“He was also modest and humble,” Mr Butler said. “You would never know he was a superstar performer. He was just an affable man. People would naturally gravitate to him.”
Mr Caisey made himself an ambassador for local music in his later years, telling The Royal Gazette in 1999: “People keep saying our music is copied from the islands, but it's not.
“We've got a style all our own. If you listen to the Talbot Brothers, they're different. The Bermuda Strollers is a household name – and like wine, the older they get, the better they sound.“
Mr Caisey, who at the time performed in the The New Bermuda All-Stars Steel Band, said he was an entertainer to the end.
Like many Bermudian artists of tourism’s heyday, Mr Caisey’s career was closely linked with the hotels that provided many of the venues for local music, and he supported himself through hotel work when he was not performing.
As many of the classic hotels began to close in the 1990s, he lamented the decline in places to put on a good show.
“I'm an entertainer; I like to tell stories about the instruments, and tourists want to learn,” he told the Gazette. “But all those places have closed, and they put us out of business.”
But he remained optimistic that live music and entertainment could be revived, saying: “It's up to us to brush ourselves off and start all over again. We can't just let our music drop.
“And we have got so many young people with talent. My generation of entertainers are getting older and we need to leave some type of legacy or the younger folks.”
⋅ Gilbert Charles William Caisey, a top Bermudian singer and band leader, was born on July 1, 1934. He died on July 22, 2021, aged 87.