"Matilda" (sometimes spelled Mathilda) is a calypso lamenting a woman who took a man for all he was worth.
"Matilda" dates back to at least the 1930s, when calypso pioneer King Radio (the stage name of Norman Span) recorded the song. Harry Belafonte recorded it in 1953, resulting in it becoming a big hit.
Some songwriting credits are given as Harry Thomas (rumoured to be a pseudonym combining Harry Belafonte and his guitarist, Millard Thomas, but ASCAP simply lists Harry Thomas alias Harry Belafonte, the writer of "Hold 'em Joe"), some credits are given as Norman Span.
Harry Belafonte's first recording of the song was on April 27, 1953 and was released as a single. Belafonte re-recorded "Matilda" for his second RCA Victor LP, Belafonte, released in 1955. The oft-repeated phrase in his rendition of the song is like the following, emphasizing the syllables of the subject's name as shown:
- Hey! Ma-til-da; Ma-til-da; Ma-til-da, she take me money and run a-Venezuela.
The song was often performed in concerts, and the audience would be encouraged to sing that line. An exceptional example of this is on his Harry Belafonte at Carnegie Hall concert album where the total playing time for "Matilda" is nearly 12 minutes.
Jimmy Soul recorded a version in 1962 as "Twistin Matilda, (And the Channel)", which changed the lyrics of the verses as well as the chorus to: "She took the money and ran off to Las Vegas." The song hit number 22 on the Billboard Hot 100 Charts.
Allan Sherman recorded a variation of the song in his first album, 1962's My Son, the Folk Singer, and put a Jewish-sounding spin on it, including asking portions of his audience (such as "Members of Hadassah") to sing along:
- Oy! My Zel-da; My Zel-da; My Zel-da, she took the money and ran with the tailor.
Sherman got sued from the estates of the song's writer, for not asking permission beforehand, because "Matilda" was protected by copyright law. He paid the penalty for this (Source: "A Gift of Laughter" by Alan Sherman).
The Grateful Dead performed a cover of this song six times from 1994 to 1995.