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Kelwyn at 80
On June 11, Kelwyn Hutcheon will celebrate his 80th birthday and mark 69 years of singing publicly. Definitely a national icon and living legend, his name is well known on the entertainment circuit—especially around Christmas time when his song Kiss Me For Christmas becomes a radio staple. Born in the Woodbrook suburb of Corbeaux Town, an area where prominent citizens like the late Dr Eric Williams, Henry Hochoy (brother of Governor General Sir Solomon Hochoy), Werner Boos, Mitra Sinanan and Ken Gordon grew up. Corbeaux Town was bounded by Park Street on the north, London Street on the south, Edward Street on the east and on the west by Flament Street. Hutcheon actually began his singing career at age 11 when he sang for the first time in public at a Kosmos Club Friday evening concert. Rainbow Terrrace club owner Mahana Hadaway was so impressed by this “little boy” that she immediately signed him to a 15-minute radio programme on Radio Trinidad and the segment was billed The Boy Wonder of Trinidad–Kelwyn Hutcheon Sings. “In those days, the Radio Trinidad studio, which was where CNMG is now on Maraval Road, didn’t even have air conditioning. It was in a building but it was open to the elements. In those days, Ken Gordon’s office was just down the hall. He was a very young man at the time and was an announcer. The show was hosted by the late Sam Ghany. The show ran for about three years, until my voice began to change; from boy soprano to tenor. My voice broke while I was singing in Grenada with the Ray Nathan Orchestra, an American band.”
At age 19, Hutcheon resumed singing, this time with the Tom Durham Orchestra on the Saturday night radio broadcasts from Rainbow Terrace, then the number one night spot. In the ensuing years Hutcheon was kept busy performing in showplaces like Tavern on the Green and Lotus Restaurant. “I remember the Mighty Sparrow coming to Lotus to sing,” recalls Hutcheon, “accompanying himself on guitar. Then, nobody really knew who this young boy was or could imagine that he would one day become the greatest calypsonian that ever lived. At the time I was paid the princely sum of $25 per week and could run tabs at the bar and restaurant. I never got my salary as my bills most times exceeded my salary.” Hutcheon’s popularity earned him another radio contract in 1954 when Gil’s Lingerie sponsored Kelwyn Hutcheon Sings. Hosted by Don Proudfoot, Frank Prado and Ghany, the programme lasted for five years. Hutcheon married his sweetheart Valme in 1959, a union which produced three daughters–Denise, Francine and Natalie. He now has eight grandchildren.
With the advent of the 60s and 70s, Hutcheon became more selective with his public performances, doing more beauty pageants and concentrating on his recording career. In 1960, An Orchid for You, written by Pat Castagne, composer of the national anthem, was Hutcheon’s first recording. “This song was first played on Radio 610, somewhere around 6.30 pm, which is the same time my first daughter, Denise, was born. An Orchid for You is a love song and it was very well received. It is still one of my songs that is still requested when I perform.” In the past few decades, Hutcheon’s discography has been prolific with some of his popular releases being Kiss me for Christmas, Happy Holiday, How I wish I were a child again and At Christmas you heart goes home. He said: “What’s significant about these songs is that they are all local compositions, written by Pat Castagne, Stephen Ferreira and Everard Leon.” Hutcheon also sings covers by world renowned singers like Bing Crosby’s I’ll be home for Christmas; Mel Torme’s The Christmas song; and Louis Satchmo Armstrong’s What a Wonderful World. “Many people ask me why I focus on Christmas in my songs. This all started with Pat Castagne’s hit Kiss me for Christmas. Because I sang that song at Carols by Candlelight, held on the grounds of President’s House, 23 years ago, people simply associated me with Christmas and the music of the season. My Christmas Classics CD is still a seller, though I thought everybody had a copy. Keeping up with this modern world, I am on YouTube and Google.”
Hutcheon’s Christmas songs have attained the level of classics and are still perineally aired on all television stations, as well as made him a blue chip artiste at Christmas events. Hutcheon’s music has been featured in no less than six editions of Caribbean Beat, the inflight magazine for first BWIA and now Caribbean Airlines. The latest review of his music being published appears in this year’s March-April issue. But, Hutcheon’s most significant achievement was being presented with a 20-year continuous performance award by former president George Maxwell Richards by the Carols by Candlelight Committee in December 2006. He also fondly recalled: “I first met current President Carmona in December 2013. He seemed impressed with my performance, so much so, he invited me to perform at one of his receptions at NAPA.” Hutcheon remains very busy, doing private functions and his charitable work continues unabated.
“I recently did a series of appearances at Fiesta Plaza, in MovieTowne.” He describes himself as “Trini to the bone,” and said he will continue to entertain the public, “as long as my voice permits.” The code Hutcheon has lived four decades by have been “love of family; love of country; and fairplay and faith in God.” About his birthday celebrations, Hutcheon said: “I have no special plans to celebrate my 80th, though my wife, Valme, may have some plans?
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