Despite being blind from infancy, Lancelot Hayward became one of Bermuda’s most respected and best-loved musicians. Largely self-taught, he played with most of Bermuda’s popular bands of the post-war era as well as fronting his own groups and trios.
During the heyday of Bermuda’s hotel and nightclub scene in the 1950s and 1960s, Hayward was in demand as an accompanist by star singers who performed in Bermuda, such as Marvin Gaye, Carmen McRae and Sarah Vaughan. He performed with jazz legends like Arthur Prysock, Joe Williams, Buddy Rich and George Benson, and in 1987 recorded an album with legendary jazz bassist Milt Hinton. He also appeared on television and radio in the US, Canada, Europe and Japan.
Frustrated at the lack of opportunities for musicians in Bermuda and the prejudice he felt as a black, blind man, Hayward moved to New York City in 1966 where he worked with influential musicians and up to his death enjoyed a loyal following as the house pianist at the Village Corner in Greenwich Village. In 1984, he formed The Lance Hayward Singers, a group of blind and sighted singers that still performs to this day, often using his original arrangements.
Lancelot Henry Stuart Hayward was born into a musical family in Spanish Point, Pembroke, on June 17, 1916 to Henry and Olivia (nee Lathan) Hayward. He had four siblingsbrothers Hadley and Hammond and two sisters, Cecile Williams and Dorie Trott.
Hayward was not born blind, but his family detected problems with his sight during his first year of life. He was diagnosed with juvenile glaucoma by a visiting American doctor, who began treating him. But when the doctor died, the family was unable to afford the necessary overseas treatment and Hayward soon went completely blind.
His parents sent him to a neighbour’s home to learn math and spelling and Lance soon proved he was not going to let blindness hold him back. He played football and cricket with neighbourhood children and even learned to ride a bicycle.
Coming from a musical familyhis father played the clarinet, his mother, the guitar, his brothers, the cornet and sister Cecile, the pianothe young Lance also found an outlet in music. By the age of six, he could play the piano, picking out many tunes by ear.
At age 13, he had the opportunity to study at the Perkins School for the Blind in Watertown, Massachusetts. As a student, Hayward was described as “an impressionable, energetic youngster with an imaginative, inquiring mind”, and he learned to read books and music in Braille. But constant teasing from boys who had been there since the age of five or six, and were therefore more advanced, forced him to return home after three years.
He began playing in local churches and within a year his talent had earned him his first professional job, with local bandleader Al Davis. Hayward also began taking lessons to improve his technique from Joseph Richards, a graduate of the Boston Conservatory of Music, and steadily built a reputation working regularly around the Island’s nightclubs.
In 1948, with distant cousin Robert Hayward, he formed the Hayward & Hayward Vocal Ensemble for which they wrote and produced shows. The group toured Toronto and Montreal in 1949 and in 1950 recorded an album, The Hayward & Hayward Vocal Ensemble, in New York. Lance Hayward later formed an all-male chorus, the Mu-En Chorale. Popular Bermudian singers Violeta Carmichael, and Pinky and Gene Steede valued him as a vocal coach.
Hayward married Mary Jackson, a schoolteacher, in 1940, but the young couple struggled financially as work for musicians dwindled to almost nothing during the Second World War. But things improved in 1946 when Hayward’s quintettrumpeter Mansfield Allen, drummer Truman Tuzo, saxophonist Nathaniel Proctor, and guitarist Leon “Beezey” Blakeneystarted a residency at the new Sea Horse Grill at the Imperial Hotel in Hamilton. The band featured regularly on ZBM’s new Saturday night radio show, ‘Live from the Sea Horse Grill’.
Although Hayward played many residencies at smaller hotels, like Belmont, Harmony Hall, Inverurie and New Windsor, larger hotels rarely hired him, claiming that his blindness prevented him reading music to accompany top overseas actseven though Hayward’s excellent ear meant that when the hotels did call in an emergency, he was able to quickly learn whatever was required. Top stars like Marvin Gaye and Sarah Vaughan frequently requested his services when they played in Bermuda.
From 1957 to 1961, Hayward, drummer Clarence “Tootsie” Bean, guitarist Milton Robinson, and bassist Max Smithenjoyed a popular winter residency at the Half Moon Hotel in Montego Bay, Jamaica. In 1959, they caught the attention of young British-Jamaican Chris Blackwell who recorded them for his fledging record label. Lance Hayward at the Half Moon, a live album of jazz standards, became the first release on what became Island Records, one of the world’s most famous recording labels.
In 1966, frustrated by racial prejudice and the practice of hotel owners employing overseas musicians on contract at the expense of local musicians, Hayward moved to New York, leaving his familyincluding children Stuart and Sylviain Bermuda.
Hayward soon found work playing at various hotels and clubs on Long Island before striking up a lifelong friendship in the early 1970s with a Greenwich Village club owner, Jim Smith, who employed him first at Jacques-in-the-Village and then at the Village Corner, where he played regularly for 16 years until his death.
In New York, Hayward played with jazz legends like Buddy Rich, George Benson, Mongo Santamaria, Nancy Wilson, Howard McGhee and Bill Lee (father of the filmmaker Spike Lee). He also taught jazz piano and voice and continued to take classical piano and organ lessons himself well into old age.
Through his friendship with Bill Lee, Hayward was credited as one of the musical consultants on the Spike Lee jazz movie Mo Better Blues (1990) for which Bill Lee was musical director.
His few recorded works include A Closer Walk, by Lance Hayward & Friends (1984); Hayward & Hinton, with Milt Hinton (1987); and Killing Me Softly, with bassist Lyn Christie and drummer Tootsie Bean (1987), the latter with liner notes by influential jazz writer Nat Hentoff.
Hayward, who was an avid cricket fan and supporter of the St. George’s Cup Match team, returned regularly to visit his family and to perform. In 1985, he became the first Bermudian to perform as a featured artist at the Bermuda Festival. Such was his reputation as a musician that when he died from complications of duodenal cancer at Mount Sinai Hospital, aged 75, on November 9, 1991, Lance Hayward’s obituary was carried in the New York Times.
His contribution to Bermudian music was recognised with several awards including the Queen's Certificate and Badge of Honour in 1980 and a National Heritage Award in 1984. In 1988, he was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Bermuda Arts Council in 1988 and in 2010, he was posthumously inducted into the Bermuda Music Hall of Fame.
Hayward’s two children also made names for themselvesStuart as a writer, independent MP and one of Bermuda’s leading environmentalists, and Sylvia as a women’s rights activist.
- By Chris Gibbons