Vernon Corea helped and supported the Sri Lankan music superstars – the late Clarence Wijewardena and Annesley Malewana from the 1960s. Clarence and Annesley were young musicians from Ratnapura – they were discovered by Vernon’s cousin Sri Sangabo Corea. He brought them down to Colombo and visited Vernon’s residence at 5 Maha Nuge Gardens and asked Vernon to help promote them over the airwaves of Radio Ceylon, the finest radio station in South Asia.
Vernon was the first broadcaster to introduce Sinhala music onto the English Services of the Commercial Service of Radio Ceylon. He helped make Clarence Wijewardena and Annesley Malewana household names in Sri Lanka. They are now music legends in South Asia and have performed all over the world.
Vernon’s cousin Sri Sangabo Corea writes in the Sunday Times in Colombo how he formed the Moonstones:
A rare gem that gave voice to Moostones
By Sri Sangabo Corea
Forty years ago, in Ratnapura, Clarence Wijewardene was in search of a partner and a lead singer who would help to transform his dreams into reality. A friend whom he had selected to play this all important role failed to pass the test when I listened to them in the very first rehearsals we had in my house at Inner Circular Road, Ratnapura.
I was to be the person who was going to launch Clarence Wijewardene to stardom. After we had a few weeks of rehearsing I realised that the voice of Clarence’s friend was nowhere near what I had in mind. The problem we were saddled with was somewhat serious and had to be solved in the quickest possible time. I suggested at the end of a rehearsal one day that Clarence should meet me within the next two days to discuss an important matter.
|Annesley’s voice, even today is as good as it was 40 years ago|
I knew for sure that Clarence was worried not knowing why I wanted him to meet me so urgently. Just as I expected he wasted no time and was at my doorstep the very next day around 5.30 in the evening. I could sense that the suspense in not knowing what I was going to talk to him about, was virtually killing him. Even the customary cigarette to calm his nerves, he couldn’t count on because Clarence never smoked in my presence! The usual smile was not there and I knew for sure what exactly was going through his troubled mind. He was obviously frightened that I was going to back out of the promise I had given to take him under my wing and make Clarence Wijewardene, a household word in Sri Lanka!
I quickly got down to explaining that his friend’s voice was lacking in richness and that a replacement was urgently required. I still remember what I told him. “Clarence, I don’t know how you’re going to do this. Without hurting his feelings you’ve got to tell him that since I am of the opinion that your voices don’t blend, you have been asked to look for another voice. Make sure that he understands and will not feel bad about it.” I played back the recordings I had made of their singing on my Akai tape recorder to prove my point.
Weeks later, Clarence arrived with a friendly and smiling young man whom he introduced as Annesley Malawana. After a brief chat I listened to Annesley in solo and thereafter to Annesley and Clarence in harmony. Instantly I put my thumb up to indicate that the voice was just what I had in mind. The year of discovery was 1966 and I for one knew that we had cleared the first major hurdle much sooner than we expected. Annesley Malawana was God’s gift to us and to many more millions who were going to enjoy listening to his captivating voice!
When the group was finalised I named it the Moonstones. There were two reasons … one was that they originated in Ratnapura, famous for its precious stones and the other was that in so short a time we were able to round up a collection of rare and valuable gems. When the Moonstones insisted that I be their Manager I courteously declined but had no choice when they produced the letterhead of the Moonstones, printed and ready with Sri Sangabo Corea as the Manager. That itself was an indication of their steadfast loyalty and gratitude which prompted me to accede to their insistent demand. I enjoyed managing them as long as I was able to do so and the Moonstones occupied centrestage in the world of entertainment.
Like Clarence, Annesley would pay a glowing tribute to me on and off the stage. Even during his concerts abroad he makes it a point to mention the energy and the time I have devoted to propel them to the top. The show of gratitude is the hallmark of a gentleman and many people in USA and Canada in particular who have been at Annesley’s concerts have commented on his sterling qualities.
I missed his concert in Chicago by a few days but he made it a point to invite my daughter Sharmini who was in the audience with a number of her Sri Lankan friends to light the traditional oil lamp after a glowing introduction, explaining my connection.
In Canada, in the presence of a large audience of Old Thomians, Annesley had said .. “If not for an Old Thomian I would not be standing here to entertain you and that Old Thomian is Mr. Sri Sangabo Corea”. That’s how sincere and grateful Annesley is for my modest contribution. Nothing makes me and my wife happier than listening to Annesley singing “Ramani” the song that was composed for our eldest daughter. It takes our minds back to those formative years, so full of nostalgic memories!
I must also mention here that success has never changed Annesley’s amiable and lovable ways. Having reached a milestone in his career he still continues to mesmerise his audiences with the Malawana Magic! This feeling amongst audiences is immediate, genuine and in my assessment, endless. I have seen this happening at every performance.
Annesley’s voice, even today is as good as it was 40 years ago! This entertainer extra-ordinary celebrated 40 years of entertaining when he appeared on stage at the BMICH on November 18 2006 together with the Moonstones. And it is my fervent prayer that he will continue to fill the hearts of his listeners with joy for many more years to come.
Behind every successful man there is a woman and Mali has stood solidly behind Annesley giving him all the support and encouragement he needs to stay at the top. May God bless Mali, their two children and Annesley abundantly. I would like to end this tribute by saying to Annesley … Thank you for the music !
Vernon wrote one of the first news articles on the Moonstones in the Ceylon Daily News in his highly influential EMCEE Column in the 1960s:
Listen to the Moonstones on You Tube –