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Musician ‘Big Daddy Gates’ dies, aged 77

“Big Daddy Gates”

“Big Daddy Gates”, a legend from the heydays of local entertainment, has died in Florida at the age of 77.

Known universally by his stage name, Donald Galloway performed alongside world-famed bands and Motown luminaries as well as the island’s top musicians.

Lucky enough to know Stevie Wonder as “a tremendous guy”, Mr Galloway could list a pantheon of names he had worked alongside: the Marvelettes, the Shangri-Las, the Temptations, Solomon Burke, Jackie Wilson, Joe Tex, Marvin Gaye, Jerry Butler, Curtis Mayfield, the Supremes, Lou Rawls, and Martha and the Vandellas.

He recalled taking the stage in Bermuda with Little Anthony and the Imperials, Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers, Sister Sledge, and the Isley Brothers — then featuring Jimi Hendrix on guitar and Buddy Miles on drums. Married for 53 years, Mr Galloway credited his wife Ursula for keeping him grounded.

Mr Galloway’s first stage act was a duo called the Stepsters with his brother Kenneth, known as “Little Gates” — but his career as an MC was his instant, definitive success.

“I started working with one of my mentors, Olive Trott, when I got started in the business,” he told the Mid-Ocean News in 1996.

“I MCd my first show when I was 17 years old, at the Clay House Inn. I wasn’t old enough to be in the club, but I was the MC anyway. If I’m not mistaken, it was the Supremes, on their first visit to Bermuda.”

A charismatic performer, Mr Galloway effortlessly charmed crowds. Offering condolences to his family, former MP and music historian Dale Butler said he “mesmerised Bermuda with his ability to describe entertainers and bands performing at the Rosebank as though they were at Carnegie Hall”.

“He was never lost for words and was always well dressed with a beaming smile and effervescent Bermuda personality. Producers knew that if they wanted a successful concert, they had to have Big Daddy Gates. May he rest in peace.”

An actor as well as a promoter, Mr Galloway spent some of his career abroad, including at London’s famed Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club, where he performed with other Bermudians in the Electric Soul People.

Musician Lance Furbert remembered his first full-time job with the Arpeggios, the band that backed Mr Galloway.

“I learnt so much from the guy. He was enthusiastic about everything; he had a ball. One time I made a mistake and he said, ‘Don’t worry about it. If you look happy, the people are happy; if you’re enthusiastic, they are too’ — which is true. He was certainly a great help to me, and a really dynamic entertainer.”

A drummer, Mr Furbert was advised by an older musician: “Just watch his leg, and you’ll never be out of time.”

“We went to Trinidad to work in 1966. On the way, the band leader and a few other guys said he never learnt the words to songs, just got up there and made it happen. In Trinidad, with calypso, people were used to the words, so the band asked him to please learn them. He got up on the stage and just talked nonsense — but the people loved him like he was James Brown; it was incredible.”

For one of his signature songs, Give Me Money, crowds would oblige by tossing notes onto the stage. Mr Furbert recalled “Big Daddy” telling him that he bought his first car that way.

“He went through different outfits. After each act he’d come out in a different suit — a green suit with a white cape, then a burnt orange suit. He’d come to work with four or five changes. Audiences would wonder what he’d come out with next.”

Asked what he would say to a youngster set on becoming an MC, Mr Galloway said: “I’d advise him to be the best at his craft.

“Being an old hand, I’d give him as much pointers as possible. It may not be as lucrative here as in the US or the UK. I believe one has to market one’s self.

“I know that when people see Big Daddy Gates is MCing, people come to see the show and know it’ll be all right.”