Video: Million-Selling ‘Bermuda’ Single

December 12, 2011

A novelty song about the island written by a California teenager who had never come within 3,000 miles of Bermuda ended up selling a million copies in the early 1950s — and was later to launch the career of one of the biggest musical acts of the ’60s.

The Bell Sisters — Cynthia Strother, 16, and Kay Strother, 11 — were discovered on October 31, 1951, singing “Bermuda” on a Los Angeles television programme called “Peter Potter’s Search for a Song.”

Their stage name came from the girls’ mother’s maiden name, Edith Bell.

With its haunting chorus — “Down in Bermuda, paradise for two,/I lost my lover there on the blue./We went sailing on a coral sea,/Starlit waters, my darling and me” –Cynthia Strother was inspired by some travel brochures for the island her mother sent away for.

“I was playing the piano,” she said in a 1951 interview when the song was sitting atop the US hit parade. “I like Spanish music best and was beating out Spanish tempo on the piano. I just got the idea and went through with it, until it was finished. Then we all got together to write the words.

“We got Indian ideas and a Spanish bullfighter idea. [But] then somebody said ‘Bermuda’ and we liked that.”

The Bell Sisters’ subsequent rise to fame was immediate; the song was picked up on the night of their local TV appearance by a music publisher who was one of the judges of the evening’s amateur compositions.

Because several established stars — including Dinah Shore and Ray Anthony — were considering recording the song, the girls were rushed into the RCA studio to record “Bermuda.”

Released at the end of 1951, by March 1952, “Bermuda” had reached number seven on the Billboard charts and eventually sold over a million copies.

Bell Sisters performing “Bermuda” on The Dinah Shore Show, 1952:

“Bermuda” was the biggest hit single for the Bell Sisters who nevertheless went on to record 11 albums and appear in two movies during the 1950s.

“Those two little girls did more to promote Bermuda tourism this year than all of the money spent by us,” said a spokesman for the island’s Trade Development Board in 1952. “That song turned Bermuda into a household word in the States — and now we’d like to encourage members of those households to come and visit us.”

The song became a staple of American radio for most of the next decade and in 1961 was covered by an up-and-coming group from New Jersey who had been known variously as the Four Lovers, the Village Voices and the Topics before finally settling on the name the Four Seasons.

After a series of failed singles, the band — which combined doo-wop with Rhythm & Blues, accentuated by lead singer Frankie Valli’s soaring falsettos — released “Bermuda” in December, 1961.

Although it didn’t climb far on the charts, “Bermuda” caught the attention of producer Bob Crewe and working with him the Four Seasons wrote and released “Sherry”, their first chart-topper.

“I didn’t know where Bermuda was when we recorded the song,” Frankie Valli later said in an interview. “But it immediately became my favourite spot on earth when the song began to get radio play. Still is, for that matter. Without ‘Bermuda’ no one would ever have heard of the Four Seasons except for our parents.”

One of the top-selling acts of all time, having sold 175 million records worldwide, the Four Seasons were fixtures on the pop charts from the ’60s through the 1980s with hits including “Big Girls Don’t Cry”, “”Rag Doll” and “December, 1963 [Oh, What A Night].”

The Four Seasons Cover of “Bermuda”

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Comments (4)

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  1. freddyg says:

    Interesting history !!! Thanks……………….

  2. SpeakReal says:

    everyone loves bermuda just released this summer the r&b singer mario released a song called bermuda also. youtube it

  3. On to the next one says:

    These sisters would be booted off the first round of american idol!

  4. Brad says:

    There’s a fantastic version by Linda Scott also. It’s my favorite.