Carlton Richard [Richmond?] Bryan was born in 1871, probably in Falmouth. He first appeared in concerts of the Kingston Choral Union in the early 1890s, when his name was given as ‘Mr Bryan Carlton’, presumably an early attempt at a stage name. Later he became famous as Carlton Bryan, but from the start of his career he was identified as ‘the Buffo’ - that is, a male opera singer, usually a bass, whose specialty is comic roles; in fact he was also greatly esteemed for his powerful bass voice.
He continued to feature in the concerts of the Choral Union, on into the new century, and quite naturally formed one of the core group along with T. Ellis Jackson, Adeline McDermott and Harry Nation when the Choir toured the United Kingdom in 1906-8. He was extremely popular in Britain, especially in comic pieces, and one journalist described his bass voice as resembling ‘the thunderous echo in the distant dale’! Nation received offers of employment in Britain, and it seems very likely that Bryan did also.
He continued to perform with the Jamaica Choir after their triumphant return to the island, his popularity enhanced by his success abroad. In September 1910 he was given a benefit concert which was well attended by his admirers; by this time he was starting to organize his own troupe and began a series of Sunday Afternoon concerts at Rockfort Gardens. This enterprise apparently did not flourish, and Bryan returned to Britain to find other employment. It is not known, so far, what work he was able to find in 1911-12, but he may soon have been under contract with the company in which he was performing at the Empire theatre on Holloway Road in London in February 1913. He was one of the ‘speciality acts’ performing in the intermezzo between the acts of a production of Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
By June 1913 Bryan was back in Jamaica, a member of a troupe led by Giovanni Daruso, a violinist. His return home was welcomed, and an extended island tour was planned. The tour started on the north coast, but was halted abruptly by the untimely death of Signor Daruso at the Kingston Public Hospital on 3rd August. The tour was continued by Bobby Grieve, a ventriloquist in the troupe, with support from Carlton Bryan; soon however Bryan was managing the tour, and apparently the Covent Garden theatre as well, supported by other members of the Jamaica Choir. Through 1914 and 1915 he continued to perform with this group, and on his own, for a variety of causes – the War Fund, the Boy Scouts, along with B deC Reid, and, in October 1914, the U.N.I.A. At the end of April 1916 he was reunited with his old Jamaica Choir colleagues, Madame McDermott-Tavares and Professor Lipscombe Barnes, in a big and successful concert in Lacovia. There was an even bigger concert at Lacovia in June as a farewell function for the Rector, the Rev H A Cover; Harry Nation and Mrs F. McCormack were also included on the programme. In August Bryan linked up with a visiting group, the American Vaudeville Entertainers, which included the ‘Black Charlie Chaplin’, to tour the island.
But sadly the beloved ‘Buffo’s’ time was running out. He had been troubled by bouts of illness in the past, including attacks of rheumatism when in Britain in 1906-8. In August 1916 he had to give up the tour and return to Kingston; by the end of January 1917 he was confined to bed, and all the care by Ellis Jackson, and Dr D. J. Phillips, one of Kingston’s prominent Black doctors, was futile in dealing with the kidney condition that was devastating his body.
Carlton Bryan died on the 10th February 1917, at 14 Smith Lane, just around the corner from the Covent Garden theatre on Sutton Street where he had often appeared. He was only 47. His funeral ceremonies at St George’s Church and the May Pen Cemetery were attended by a large number of people of all sections of the community. Before his coffin was covered in the grave, four of his musician colleagues, led by Ellis Jackson, sang - ‘Is it all of Life to live; is it all of Death to die?’ - moving many to tears.