October was officially declared “Calypso History Month” in 2002 by TUCO (Trinbago Unified Calypsonians Organisation). Starting tomorrow, TUCO will use this special month to focus on a series of celebratory events, including exhibitions and lectures aimed at educating the nation on the role that the calypso artform has played in the social and political development of Trinidad and Tobago. For information call TUCO at 623-9660.
Starting next Sunday, a four-part series entitled “By Calypso our Stories are Told”, a familiar refrain, courtesy First Citizens, will focus on some of the calypsoes that have documented significant events in our history.
Calypsoes, through their poetic lyrics and rhythms, capture a lot of our history by telling our stories in song, like no history book can. According to one of our earlier calypsonians, Lord Beginner, “When I sing about a cricket match, you didn’t have to read the newspapers again.” And so it is with many calypsoes that we will feature in the upcoming Sunday Guardian series.
Calypso unites us as a society on many levels, as do soca, chutney soca, soca parang and rapso, recognised artforms spawned by the original calypso genre. We are indeed the “Land of Calypso” and should trumpet that proudly.
Many have contributed to the development of the artform…writers, musicians, producers, promoters and of course the calypsonians, many of whom are immortalised through their works. Lest we forget, we remember and celebrate our calypsonians:
The Early Pioneers, up to the mid-1950’s:
Atilla the Hun (Raymond Quevedo/1892-1962)
Executor (Phillip Garcia/1880-1952)
Houdini (Wilmoth Hendricks/1885-1973)
Railway Douglas (Walter ‘Chieftain’ Douglas/1895-1971)
Lord Caresser (Rufus Callender/1910-1976)
Growler (Errol Duke/ in the 1930’s and 40’s)
Roaring Lion (Raphael de Leon/1908-1999)
Duke of Iron (Cecil Anderson/1906-1968)
Lord Invader (Rupert Grant/1914-1961)
King Radio (Norman Spann/started singing in the early 1930’s)
Growling Tiger (Neville Marcano/1916-1993)
Lady Trinidad (Thelma Lane/1914-1999
Spoiler (Theophilus Phillip/1926-1960)
Lord Pretender (Aldric Farrell/1917-2002)
Lord Kitchener (Aldwyn Roberts/1922-2000)
Other notable calypsonians of the era: Cristo/Christopher Laidlow, Iron Duke/Brylo Ford, Viper/Roderick Lewis, Macbeth the Great/Patrick McDonald, Gorilla/Charles Grant, Destroyer/Donald Glasgow, Ziegfield/Percy Simon, Killer/Cephas Alexander, Sir Galba/George McSween, Small Island Pride/Theo Woods, Gibraltar/Sidney Benjamin, Dictator/Kenny St. Bernard, Spitfire/Carlton Gumbs.
Among the later giants of calypso (in the 1950’s and 60’s and beyond):
Lord Kitchener (Aldwyn Roberts/1922-2000) who transcended the 40’s and earlier 50’s
Mighty Terror (Fitzgerald Henry/1921-2007)
Lord Melody (Fitzroy Alexander/1926-1988)
Mighty Sparrow (Slinger Francisco/1935-present)
Lord Blakie (Carlton Joseph/1932-2005); Mighty Bomber (Clifton Ryan/1928-present)
Lord Nelson (Robert Nelson/1930- )
Lord Bryner (Kade Simon/1937-1980).
Lord Shorty/Ras Shorty I (Garfield Blackman/1941-2000), soca pioneer; Sundar Popo (1943-2000), chutney soca pioneer; Crazy (Edwin Ayoung/1944-present), parang soca pioneer; Lancelot Layne and Brother Resistance (Lutalo Masimba), rapso.
Of more recent vintage (calypsonian sobriquet only):
Mighty Duke, Mighty Chalkdust, Denyse Plummer, Calypso Rose, Mighty Stalin, Mighty Shadow, SuperBlue, David Rudder, Machel Montano, Rikki Jai, Maestro, Scrunter and many more.
Nasser Khan is the author of the book “Heroes, Pioneers & Role Models of Trinidad & Tobago”, which is available as a free download at http://www.safaripublications.com/firstcitizenstt/heroesprofilestt/. In it are featured our pioneering calypsonians in the chapter Culture and the Arts. He has also authored the “History of West Indies Cricket through Calypsoes”…documenting the lyrics of over 200 cricket-themed calypsoes from 1926 onwards. He has also written many newspaper and magazine articles on calypso, mas and steelpan.