Park Street has lost its voice with the passing of its original diva, Pam Crain.
The 80-year-old died in Calcutta on Wednesday morning following a cardiac arrest triggered by respiratory distress. She is survived by husband Don Saigal and other family members.
Pam listened to jazz greats at Dow Hill boarding in Kurseong where she was introduced to the piano at age 13. She went on to become the voice of jazz and western music in Calcutta.
Metro took a trip down Park Street memory lane with some of Pam Crain’s closest.
Nitin Kothari, Owner of Mocambo
Our association goes back to the early ’50s. Before Mocambo opened, we were looking for an orchestra and a glamorous lady to sing there. The team finally discovered this young girl of about 17 who was singing at some small restaurant on Chowringhee. They liked her vivaciousness, her voice and asked if she’d like to be the first crooner at Mocambo. She said ‘yes’ immediately. So she was appointed in 1955 before Mocambo opened in April 1956.
Pam had to be groomed because when Mocambo opened it was a very posh nightclub. A Jewish lady called Kitty Brannan, a fashion designer who used to run what we call a boutique today, was appointed. Pam was taken there and new outfits were designed for her. A favourite of hers was a fishtail dress and they made her half a dozen of those. They got her a hairdresser to style her hair differently.
And when Mocambo opened she was an instant hit, a celebrity.
She sang in Mocambo for more than 10 years. They were a six-piece band and Pam would pick the latest in pop music from the ’50s. They would start around 7.30pm and go on till 1 or 2am, especially on weekends.
Even after she left Mocambo, she never forgot my father or me. My father was the one running the restaurant at that time and I was a teenager learning the business. All of us were in awe of Pam Crain, she was like a goddess.
Louiz Banks, Musician
I met her in the 1970s and invited her to join my band, the Louiz Banks Brotherhood, in Blue Fox. I heard her a couple of times and became an ardent fan; she was so amazing. When I think back, she was the greatest jazz diva of our country. The greatest.
She was way ahead of her times in India. She was a free spirit and she loved to improvise. She was an outstanding beauty. She had beauty, brains and talent.
We also collaborated as a song-writing team. She wrote many songs like Cool Me Down and Reason. She was a great lyric writer.
The last time I played with her was in Bombay in the 1990s. I had a band (The Louiz Banks Band) and she had moved to Bombay, before moving back to Calcutta again.
We were in touch on the phone. The last time we met was in Calcutta where I was doing an RD Burman show in July. I called her over and we had a meal together at The Taj.
I always tried very hard to make her come back to singing but she used to say, ‘No, no. I’ve done my thing’.
Jayashree Singh, Singer
She was my mentor. If it wasn’t for Pam, I wouldn’t have started singing. She taught me how to sing, how to dress for stage....
I was 20 when I first met her. We’d go to listen to her at Blue Fox and we ended up becoming family. She was magic on stage. She was exquisitely beautiful. Her dressing sense was way ahead of her times.
One of my favourite performances of her was Betty Carter’s Ego. If Pam was inspiration for me, Betty Carter was inspiration for her. And this one time in Bombay at the Jazz Yatra, Betty Carter was performing and Pam sat in the audience, crying for 10 minutes. Later she went backstage to meet Betty with a painting of hers that Louiz Banks had made and given Pam so she could get it signed by her. Betty Carter hugged her and said she couldn’t believe that there was someone in India who sang her songs and was so much into her. Next day she called Pam over and they had lunch together and then went out shopping. I think that must have been the best day in Pam’s life.
She was a very shy and private person off-stage and our home was among the few that she visited. And every time she would come we’d play Scrabble, gossip, listen to music. For me it’s like losing a best friend.
I first met Pam in 1964, when my group the Trojans played at Trincas. We went to see her perform at a nearby restaurant. Almost every night in Calcutta, after the restaurants and cabaret clubs had closed for the night, we would all arrive at Pam’s house and party till the sun came up.
I met Pam a few times later during my yearly trips to India. She looked the same as I had seen her 30 years ago. Pam was a one-off. She will be missed by all who knew her.
Moon Moon Sen, Actress
She was so ladylike and fashionable. She taught me how to stand.
Her mother was quite a seamstress and Pam knew how to cut cloth like many designers don’t. Pam and her friend Brenda Lilley had a boutique, Madame Butterfly, on Free School Street.
Blue Fox was Pam Crain.... A very large part of Calcutta is gone.