Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Douglas Meerwald

Earle Douglas Meerwald was born into a very musical and talented Burgher family in Colombo, Ceylon. The Meerwald Family were well known for being first class, first rate musicians on the island. The Meerwald Brothers - Earle and Clair performed at the Public Hall - where the Empire Theatre now stands in Colombo - as the Alabama Masked Ministrels for over a decade.

There was a wealth of music in post colonial Ceylon. The Big band sound was extremely popular in 1920s Ceylon. The popularity of dance bands increased after World Wars I and II. British musicians visited Ceylon to entertain the allied troops in the 1940s who were stationed on the island. Lord Louis Mountbatten of the South East Asian Command (SEAC) had made Ceylon his headquarters during the war. Music played an important role in boosting morale of the multi-national forces stationed on the island.

Glen Miller and his music was hugely popular in wartime Ceylon. Douglas and his school mates from Carey College Colombo enjoyed listening to the big band sounds on the radio station.

Radio was launched in Ceylon in 1925. The 'Father of Broadcasting in Ceylon' was a British engineer, Edward Harper who initiated the first ever radio experiments on the island.

Broadcasting on an experimental basis was started in Ceylon by the Telegraph Department in 1923, just three years after the inauguration of broadcasting in Europe. Gramophone music was broadcast from a tiny room in the Central Telegraph Office with the aid of a small transmitter built by the Telegraph Department engineers from the radio equipment of a captured German submarine.

Colombo Radio was launched in 1925. This was a historic moment - Sri Lanka celebrated 80 years in broadcasting in 2005 and Douglas Meerwald had the distinction of appearing on many radio programs over the airwaves of Radio Ceylon (the oldest and finest radio station in South Asia) in the 1950s. Douglas has appeared on several music programs presented by the legendary Radio Ceylon announcers of the day.Musicians enjoyed very warm relationships with Ceylon's top broadcasters. Douglas Meerwald knew them all - Chris (Christopher Greet), Jimmy Bharucha, Greg Roskowski, Vernon Corea, Tim Horshington, Claude Selveratnam among a whole host of broadcasting icons of Radio Ceylon.

Meerwald was a dashing cricketer and all rounder at Carey College Colombo in the 1950s.He even won the Spooner Prize at Carey College. His first love was music - this was his natural God given talent. It was 'in the blood.' Douglas Meerwald decided to explore his musical talent. He joined Don Daniels and the Ballroom Hornets and learnt his craft. He soon built up a reputation as one of Colombo's finest crooners. Subsequently Douglas Meerwald joined one of the most versatile and swingiest dance bands in Ceylon - The Manhattans.

He headlined concerts and music events all over Ceylon - The Manhattans played at the prestigious Galle Face Hotel and at the Grand Oriental Hotel. One of Sri Lanka's talented musicians 'Sam the Man' joined the Manhattans in August 1957. This really gave a boost to the big band sound of the Manhattans.

Douglas Meerwald was invited to appear on various music programs over Radio Ceylon.

'Not content with Church singing,Douglas sang the standards with great acceptance.His interpretation of 'The Lady is the Tramp' has the stamp of class. Quite naturally band singing had to come and Douglas started with Don Daniel and his Ballroom Hornets. Later he joined The Manhattans....he was on the air with The Manhattans on the popular series Bristol Nite,' noted Vernon Corea in his popular EMCEE Column in the Ceylon Daily News in 1967. Douglas Meerwald also appeared on Talent Corner and Starmaker on Radio Ceylon - two very popular music programs in the country. The station enjoyed millions of listeners and Douglas Meerwald entertained the entire Indian sub-continent on the Overseas Service of the station.

Douglas Meerwald was not the only Meerwald who was heard over Radio Ceylon - his father and uncle Earle and Clair, both gifted musicians who sang in perfect pitch. They were members of a leading church choir in Colombo - The St.Luke's Church Borella Church Choir. All three Meerwalds sang in the choir on Radio Ceylon and susquently the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation, during Christmas and Easter in the 1960s and 1970s. Douglas Meerwald was a Christian, his faith in Jesus Christ was important to him. The Meerwald family were fully involved in the community in Borella through the work of St.Luke's Church for over 60 years. Serving the community was equally important to the Meerwald family.

Douglas Meerwald was a pioneer musician who contributed to the rich music history of the island, through the big band sound of the 1950s. He died in Colombo in 2003.

Douglas Meerwald pioneered the way in Ceylon from the 1950s - 1960s in the world of music by fronting some of the swingiest big bands in Colombo, including The Manhattans who had a loyal fan base on the island.

The Daily News in Sri Lanka published an obituary of Douglas Meerwald in October 2003:

MEERWALD - EARLE DOUGLAS - Husband of Audrey (Deceased), father of Sandra, Debra and Keith, brother of Julaine, Don and Irma Klyne, father-in-law of Ralph Ferdinands (United States Embassy), expired. Cortege leaves A.F. Raymond's Funeral Parlour at 4.30 p.m. on Thursday 2nd October. Burial at General Cemetery, Kanatte (Anglican Section).


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