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Bill trotman: Yuh carnival man

Published: 
Friday, August 22, 2014
Bill Trotman at his home art studio on Cicada Street, Morvant. PHOTOS: MARYANN AUGUSTE

A visit to Bill Trotman’s home at 45 Cicada Street, Morvant, is like being transported into a museum. Say artist, poet, dancer, calypsonian, masquerader, tutor, icon and national award recipient and you are speaking of one person—Paul Trotman, aka Bill Trotman, Trinidad Bill, Lord Flying Fish even.

Now at the ripe age of 80, save a slight hearing impediment, he’s still got perfect memory and eyesight. Trotman is a treasure trove of knowledge, experience and accomplishment. It was difficult to leave Trotman’s home after spending a day with him and his “manager” Akende Rudder, such was the fun of being regaled with many stories of his childhood, youth and multi-faceted career.

It was a very hot and humid day, so Trotman mixed a concoction he called his “secret cocktail” and prepared his “special” chicken drumsticks, another secret recipe.

At the moment Trotman is focused on beginning work on his Heritage House/Art Gallery to be constructed on the site of his home that will accommodate his wealth of artwork, mas, costumes, awards and literature collected for well over half-century. Overtures have already been made to the Ministry of Arts & Multiculturalism and the corporate sector to assist in funding this project.

Though considered an elder of Morvant, Trotman was actually born in Port-of-Spain and spent a few years in Woodbrook before settling in Morvant at the age of ten. The older folk of Morvant have cherished memories of Trotman as, back in 1945, he was actually one of the people who assisted in the construction of the Morvant Community Centre, something Trotman is proud of.

He said: “We had no contractor, no minister, no government to clear the land and put up that building. It was strictly a community effort. It was the first community centre to be built in the West Indies.”

So, how did young Trotman become involved in the arts and literature? “I was influenced by Geoffrey Holder,” recalled Trotman. Through decades Trotman nurtured and developed his artistic skills with him doing six solo exhibitions and his work being displayed innumerable occasions in joint exhibitions internationally.

Wearing a frown Trotman said: “This country has a glut of emerging artists but sadly lacking in galleries. The venues to display have drastically diminished through the years.”

Trotman’s work resides in the homes of many collectors and is mounted in hotels, government and state entities, and offices nationwide. The host at De Nu Pub (The Mas Camp) for the first ten years of the venue’s existence, Trotman was commissioned to paint huge murals which were permanently hung at the popular showplace.

As a dancer, Trotman performed with some of the best in the business, including Julia Edwards, Aldwyn Boynes and Stretch Cox. Locally, his dancing, calypso singing and comedic prowess have seen him perform at The Penthouse, Salvatori Building, Port-of-Spain; Club Miramar, South Quay; Crab Hole, Maraval; Pepperpot, Bournes Road, St James; and, Cindyanna Room of Bretton Hall, Victoria Avenue. Internationally, he has thrilled audiences at The Apollo, Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, Madison Square Garden, Montreal’s Cross Road Club, and for 11 years at the Brooklyn Museum, New York. In 1989, Trotman was also the first artiste to host the annual Sunshine Awards, held at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. He shared that role with US diva Roberta Flack.

Trotman also impressed as an actor, his biggest role being in the 1961 movie America by Night, starring Lionel Hampton, and screened at the Astor Cinema in Woodbrook. Opening for international superstars was nothing new for Trotman as he has done so for Brook Benton, Nat King Cole, Bo Jackson, The Shorelles and Jose Feliciano. 

Other superstars Trotman has rubbed shoulders with have included Michael Jackson, Bob Marley, Mick Jagger, Nina Simone and Stevie Wonder. 

He joined Sparrow’s Original Young Brigade (OYB) calypso tent in 1963 and took his acting ability to the tent’s stage. 

He recalled: “It was one dollar to go to the OYB and theatre went hand in hand along with good calypso. In 1964, the main attraction in the tent was the skit Stella Wedding Scandal.” Other calypso skits starring Trotman included The Trial of Mano Benjamin (1965); Nine Years Honeymoon (1966); Governor’s Ball (1967); and, Baby Snatch (1968). For the latter, Trotman ran into trouble with the authorities as attorneys of the day petitioned the AG to ban the play for contempt of court as its plot was based on an ongoing court case.

Trotman stayed at the OYB for 23 years as the tent’s emcee and cast member. He also hosted Carnival Sunday night’s Dimanche Gras show at the Queen’s Park Savannah for 11 years.

Now in big demand for almost every major calypso or Carnival production, Trotman was hired in 1967 to host the Miss Ebony Pageant, staged at the Queen’s Park Savannah, Port-of-Spain. Special reserved tickets to this gala contest cost a whopping three dollars.

Through the decades Trotman has also served on the committees of several organisations and has been the longest serving board member of the Copyright Organisation of T&T (COTT), doing so for nine years.

Go Back to School is regarded as Trotman’s biggest hit. Smiling he said: “Would you believe I was already 45 years old when I recorded that song. But, the song was magic as it captured the hearts of every one, young and old.” Other calypso hits by Trotman are Eat Well Brown; Run (1961); My Kinda Woman (1973); Sing a Song for me (1981); Monkey See Monkey Do (1982): Suck Finger baby (1985); and, Going for king (1988).

One of few calypsonians who resisted the lure of entering competitions, Trotman took the bait, succumbed in 1998 and entered the Soca Monarch competition singing The Energiser. He said: “People told me I couldn’t sing that song as it was too fast to perform but William Munro encouraged me to enter his competition. Roy Cape and I were two of the oldest singers in the contest. The thing is Roy Cape’s band was also the accompanying band in the competition. I actually made it to the final. It was the only time I entered a calypso competition and think I did well.”

Apart from his numerous artistic and literary accomplishments Trotman was also a consummate masquerader, his icon in mas being former bandleader/mas designer Terry Evelyn, now domiciled in the USA. Trotman is fondly remembered for his portrayals in J’Ouvert and as native American Indian, fancy sailor and African warrior. Portraying Ugurugu-Spirit of Scrifice for Evelyn’s Uhuru Ashanti in 1965 he was featured on the cover of the first newspaper Carnival magazine, immortalised in colour by The Mirror. Trotman also played major portrayals for presentations by Peter Minshall and Tribal Connection.

In spite of his acclaim in culture and the arts, Trotman is also proud of his personal life. He said: “Officially I have four children, but many more with no papers.” He married Trudy Antuniuk in 1971, in Canada but was divorced for “refusing to return to Canada.” Trotman mused: “My wife is such a beautiful woman but I was taking care of my blind 90-year-old mother back then and wasn’t going to leave her in Trinidad. I have no intention of returning to North America as that place is too cold and my body is too old.” 

Your consummate Carnival figure, Trotman published his third book three years ago, appropriately titled Look Meh Yuh Carnival Man.