Archive for » May, 2012 «

Keep that Fighting Spirit Alive

As I began to upload this week’s piece, I realised that it was article number 54 – which means that this website marked its first anniversary earlier in May without my realising it.  When I started the Taj Mahal Foxtrot site, I thought it would allow me to highlight recordings mentioned in the book and to feature tidbits that hadn’t managed to find their way into the manuscript.  As it turns out, the website has taken a life of its own.

The site launched on May 21, 2011, with this piece about the African-American drummer Oliver Tines who played with Louis Armstrong in Europe before dying of tuberculosis in Satara in 1938.  Since then, it has  explored why Mina Kava’s Bombay Meri Hai is popular in Sri Lanka,  followed Usha Uthup through her early nightclub years and pored through a book of jazz record art by Manek Davar.

People from around the world have sent me their stories and the stories of their families: Robert Evangelista told me about his father’s Filipino band in Jamalpur in the 1930s; from Italy, Ricardo Fantin sent material about his grandfather, John Abriani, who performed in India in the early 1930s; Patricia Kaden from Cremona told me about how Mena Silas wrote a waltz for her mother (and about how her grandfather shot the film Sabu the Elephant Boy);  Penina Partsch described her grandmother’s journey from Calcutta to Hawaii; Maxine Steller from Australia has been sending me treasures every day.

Just when I thought I’d run out of material, the generous Marco Pacci appeared from Italy with an offer to let me feature the records he’s collected over the years.  As a result, thanks to so many of you, this website still has a few more months of stories to tell and music to showcase.

Sister Act

Sybil, Ailsa and Merlyn Hutson

The Hutson Sisters, Bombay’s answer to the Andrews Sisters, first appear in my archival material in November 1937, when they were featured on a late-night All India Radio programme. The hypercritical reviewer for The Times of India wasn’t exactly bowled over by their harmonies. Though they performed “some quite good jazz”, the reviewer had some reservations. He concluded, “I hope that the Hutson Sisters Variety Troupe…will in time reach the goal they are aiming at.”

Bombay’s Broadway Boys

Last week, I reproduced a charming note written by Maxine Steller, a Bombay native who now lives in Australia. This week, it’s time for her husband, 87-year-old Fred Steller, to take the stage, in a long note transcribed by Maxine:

Frederick Joseph Steller was born on the 2nd December 1925. His parents were Charles Joseph Steller, who was German, and Maria Annika (Annie) Falcao de Carvalho, of Portuguese descent. Charles’ parents had come from Berlin to India with a theatrical company. Otto Herman Steller (born 1863) was a Professor of Music and his wife Ernestine, nee Hauke, (born1867) was a talented violinist from Halla. When the concert party disbanded in Bombay, they decided to stay on. Otto became the bandmaster of The Bombay Volunteer Rifles and died of meningitis in 1895 at the age of 32 years.

Maxine Steller’s Bombay

  Over the past couple of months, I’ve been blessed with a delightful new email pal from Australia. Her name is Maxine Steller and she’s a sprightly 82 years old. She’s obviously a computer wizard because she is able to scan and attach images – and what treasures she’s sent me!

Before she emigrated to Australia in 1950, she’d sung at several events around Bombay and has shared with me a wealth of photographs, commendation letters and programme notes (one from the war years lists her as “Maxine, The Boys’ Favourite”). There’s also a contract for a show on All India Radio in 1947, which includes a clause stating that the station director retains the authority to reject the performance if “the artist is not sober enough”. I wonder what 17-year-old Maxine’s mother made of that.

Two years before that, aged 15, she had been invited to sing with a band called the Broadway Boys, which had at its core members of the Steller family. Several years later, in 1951, Maxine married the band leader, Fred. Here’s her story, as she wrote it for her grandchildren.


Both my grandfathers joined the Army in England and were sent out to India. Robert Taylor was based at a cantonment in Bangalore.  Ernest Morris was in the Wellington Barracks, Poona, then joined the Poona police force, eventually transferring to Bombay.

My father, Bill Taylor, was born in Bangalore in 1902 and ran away to join the army when WWI broke out.  He was shipped to Mesopotamia and he would tell us stories of life in the cavalry taking care of the horses and eating the dead ones, as these young soldiers were starving.  After the war, when the ship docked in Bombay he joined the Bombay police force and married my mother Vera. Her father had been a Superintendent in the Bombay Police, dying at an early age. Bill and Vera had two sons and decided to try again for a daughter.

   I was born in the Motlibhai Hospital in Bombay, India on the 23rd October 1930 and baptised Maxine Iona Taylor at St.Anne’s Catholic Church, Mazagaon.  The heroine of the book my mother Vera (nee Morris) was reading at the time was named Maxine and although a friend suggested she call me Gloria instead, as Maxine conjured up French prostitutes, she stuck to her guns then threw in Iona as my saint’s name to tone it down.  Mum was of Scottish stock from her mother’s side, attended the Scots Kirk, Colaba, Bombay when a child, and the Isle of Iona is where the Scots believe Christ will appear when he comes back to this earth.  My Father Bill was a Catholic.

About a fortnight before I was born, my father and mother returned in a gharry (horse driven carriage) from a night out at the cinema and as they were crossing the road to the quarters behind the police station, they were both shot at as reprisal for someone being arrested.  The perpetrators were told to find and shoot a European officer and my parents happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Mum was shot in the thigh and Dad in his hand.  The men were arrested and there was a court case.   They apologised to my mother as they said they had no idea they were shooting at a memsahib.  Fortunately, there were no serious repercussions where I was concerned.  This story was never told to me until about 1946 when it was mentioned in a newspaper article when my father was made a deputy commissioner of police.

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