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Calypsonian of the Century
The Mighty Sparrow

By Vaneisa Baksh,
Sunday Express (Trinidad)

In the realm of calypso, a kingdom rich in kings, princes and other nobles, it is difficult to isolate an absolute monarch. The citizens of this calypso kingdom are fiercely supportive of their chosen royalties, as the ongoing debate stirred up by Keith Smith has once again demonstrated. In the responses to Keith's invitation to choose the king of the century, two names have been steadily presented: the Lord Kitchener and the Mighty Sparrow.

These two have contributed enormously to the art of calypso, and to bow to the practice of selecting just one required the establishment of a fine line encircling certain criteria, particularly the global impact the calypsonian has had, and the influence on the conditions and structure of calypso. Into that circle then, steps the Mighty Sparrow, Slinger Francisco, replete with all the regalia of a king of calypso. 
[continued below]


The Mighty Sparrow Volume 1

The Mighty Sparrow Volume 2

The Mighty Sparrow Volume 3

Dance Party Gold

The Mighty Sparrow Volume 4

The Best of
the Mighty Sparrow

Supreme Serenader

25th Anniversary

A Mother's Love 

Sparrow's Tracks
(click on the link to order the CD!)

  1. Bag A Sugar - The Best of the Mighty Sparrow
  2. Big Bamboo - Dance Party Gold
  3. Big Bamboo - The Best of the Mighty Sparrow
  4. Born to Love - The Supreme Serenader
  5. Both O Dem - A Mother's Love 
  6. Congo Man Dance Party Gold
  7. Dead or Alive - 25th Anniversary
  8. Doh Back Back - Golden Hitz Of Calypso & Soca Vol. 1
  9. Don't Give It Up - The Supreme Serenader
  10. Gimme Room To Dance - A Mother's Love 
  11. Gu Nu Gu - 25th Anniversary
  12. Interdependence - 25th Anniversary
  13. Jean And Dinah Medley - Dance Party Gold
  14. Justice - A Mother's Love 
  15. London Bridge - A Mother's Love 
  16. Love African Style - 25th Anniversary
  17. Love One Another - The Best of the Mighty Sparrow
  18. Magarita Medley - Dance Party Gold
  19. Man Will Survive - A Mother's Love 
  20. May May - Dance Party Gold
  21. May May - The Best of the Mighty Sparrow
  22. Medley - A Mother's Love 
  23. Medley - The Best of the Mighty Sparrow
  24. Miss Mary Medley - Dance Party Gold
  25. Mother's Love - A Mother's Love
  26. Mr. Walker - Dance Party Gold
  27. Obeah Wedding - The Best of the Mighty Sparrow
  28. Paramaribo - The Supreme Serenader
  29. Party Music - A Mother's Love 
  30. Philosophy - The Best of the Mighty Sparrow
  31. Play You Mas - 25th Anniversary
  32. Racism - The Supreme Serenader
  33. Raperman - The Supreme Serenader
  34. Rum is Macho - 25th Anniversary
  35. Saltfish (Solfish) - A Mother's Love 
  36. Santo Domingo - The Supreme Serenader
  37. Save De World - 25th Anniversary
  38. Soca Pressure - A Mother's Love 
  39. Somebody In The Party - A Mother's Love 
  40. Sweet Music - A Mother's Love 
  41. Ten To One Is Murder - Dance Party Gold
  42. The Band Plays On 2000 Tribute To Pan
  43. The Pump - The Best of the Mighty Sparrow
  44. Tobago - 25th Anniversary
  45. Village Ram - The Best of the Mighty Sparrow
  46. Willie Dead - The Supreme Serenader
  47. Witch Doctor - Dance Party Gold
  48. You Mad - 25th Anniversary
  49. Bongo - The Mighty Sparrow Volume 2
  50. Boogie Beat - The Mighty Sparrow Volume 3
  51. Calypso Boogaloo - The Mighty Sparrow Volume 2
  52. Calypso Twist - The Mighty Sparrow Volume 1
  53. Carnival Woman - The Mighty Sparrow Volume 3
  54. Congo Man - The Mighty Sparrow Volume 1
  55. Dan Is The Man (In A Van) - The Mighty Sparrow Volume 1
  56. Dear Sparrow - The Mighty Sparrow Volume 4
  57. Don't Go Joe- The Mighty Sparrow Volume 1
  58. Du Du Yemi - The Mighty Sparrow Volume 3
  59. Federation - The Mighty Sparrow Volume 1
  60. Good Citizen - The Mighty Sparrow Volume 2
  61. Governor's Ball - The Mighty Sparrow Volume 1
  62. Gunslingers - The Mighty Sparrow Volume 4
  63. Idi Amin - The Mighty Sparrow Volume 3
  64. Jack Palance - The Mighty Sparrow Volume 1
  65. Jane - The Mighty Sparrow Volume 2
  66. Jean And Dinah - The Mighty Sparrow Volume 1
  67. Jook For Jook - The Mighty Sparrow Volume 4
  68. King Kong - The Mighty Sparrow Volume 3
  69. Life Down At Hell - The Mighty Sparrow Volume 3
  70. Lion And Donkey (Rematch) - The Mighty Sparrow Volume 2
  71. Madam Dracula - The Mighty Sparrow Volume 4
  72. Mae Mae (May May) - The Mighty Sparrow Volume 4
  73. Man Like To Feel - The Mighty Sparrow Volume 4
  74. Miss Mary - The Mighty Sparrow Volume 2
  75. Miss Universe - The Mighty Sparrow Volume 3
  76. Monica Dou Dou - The Mighty Sparrow Volume 4
  77. New York Blackout - The Mighty Sparrow Volume 3
  78. No Money No Love - The Mighty Sparrow Volume 1
  79. Obeah Wedding - The Mighty Sparrow Volume 1
  80. Oriental Touch - The Mighty Sparrow Volume 2
  81. Our Model Nation- The Mighty Sparrow Volume 1
  82. Pan Man - The Mighty Sparrow Volume 2
  83. Papa Rat - The Mighty Sparrow Volume 3
  84. Rastamania - The Mighty Sparrow Volume 3
  85. Robbery With V - The Mighty Sparrow Volume 1
  86. Rope - The Mighty Sparrow Volume 2
  87. Rose - The Mighty Sparrow Volume 4
  88. Russian Satellite - The Mighty Sparrow Volume 4
  89. Sailor Man - The Mighty Sparrow Volume 4
  90. Same Time, Same Place - The Mighty Sparrow Volume 2
  91. Sell The Pussy - The Mighty Sparrow Volume 2
  92. Simpson (The Funeral Agency Man) - The Mighty Sparrow Volume 4
  93. Soca Man - The Mighty Sparrow Volume 3
  94. Sparrow Come Home - The Mighty Sparrow Volume 1
  95. Sparrow Dead - The Mighty Sparrow Volume 2
  96. Steering Wheel - The Mighty Sparrow Volume 4
  97. Ten To One Is Murder - The Mighty Sparrow Volume 4
  98. Teresa - The Mighty Sparrow Volume 4
  99. The Pan Tuner - The Mighty Sparrow Volume 3
  100. Trinidad Carnival - The Mighty Sparrow Volume 4
  101. Well Spoken Moppers - The Mighty Sparrow Volume 4
  102. Wood In The Fire - The Mighty Sparrow Volume 2
 

Sparrow was born in Grenada but his mother, Clarissa came to join her husband, Rupert in Trinidad when he was eighteen months old, and this is where he grew up and calls home. His music started early, from school to the choir at St. Patrick's Catholic Church. Like everyone at the time, he listened to the music of American street quartets, pop and jazz, and calypso. The music of Lord Kitchener, Lord Melody, Lord Christo and the Mighty Spoiler rang in his ears and he decided he wanted to be a calypsonian.

His career started in 1954 as the Little Sparrow singing "The Parrot and the Monkey" which he followed the next year with the "High Cost of Living," but it was in 1956, after he had toured Guyana extensively and had an intensive training experience, that he jammed his way to public acclaim with "Jean and Dinah" which won the twenty-year-old his first Calypso King crown.

In 1958 he was the first with a triple win in the same year in the Road March Competition ("P.A.Y.E.," "Russian Satellite," and "Theresa," his first bilingual attempt). The Carnival Development Committee, for the first time, awarded him a cash prize.

He would go on to win the Calypso Monarch title eleven times, including the King of Kings competition. He has won the Road March title eight times, second only to Lord Kitchener. He had to retire himself to allow others to have a chance, but plans to re-enter the World Monarch and Road March Competitions this year (2000).

Listing his numerous titles cannot fully measure the man or his contribution. He has been one of the most prolific calypsonians of all time, particularly in the astonishing period of the late fifties and the sixties. By 1964, Sparrow had a hundred and fifty calypsoes to his credit. This remarkable abundance has led to criticism that he was not composing all of his music; but then, very few calypsonians can honestly claim to have composed all their songs. He credited Reginald (Piggy) Joseph then with having worked on at least fifteen of the 150 songs; and it is a tribute to Joseph that it is impossible to distinguish which ones could be Sparrow's and which are Joseph's compositions. They are all so completely in harmony with the personality of the Birdie that is distinctly aggressive, witty, salacious, humorous, biting and insightful.

It is this personality that has driven him to his dominion. He has fought for the improvement of the calypsonian's lot from the time he broke into the scene, and through his demands and persistence, many changes were made. In 1957, he sang the defiant "Carnival Boycott" and refused to appear in the Dimanche Gras show in protest of the paltry prize moneys for calypsonians and band leaders as opposed to the lucre for the beauty queens. This song triggered the formation of the Carnival Development Committee.

He was producing records at a phenomenal rate, and set up his own recording company in the beginning of the sixties, the first calypsonian to do so. He insisted on working with only the best musicians and was producing music that was lyrically and musically strong, and was not afraid to explore several themes in both his music and lyrics. In this regard, though he was innovative, he was also exploring all the traditional forms available. It opened the way.

At a time when calypsonians were not highly regarded, and their art form was not given the kind of recognition it deserved, Sparrow forced the calypsonians to see the possibilities they could explore to gain respect, independence and income. His repertoire is so extensive, covering every possible genre of the calypso: from social commentary, humour, politics; everything, that his genius is indisputable.

In 1969, the Government of Trinidad and Tobago presented him with the Humming Bird Medal, Silver; and in 1993, with the Chaconia Medal, Gold. He has travelled the world-the Caribbean, Europe, Asia, Africa, North and South America-taking the calypso internationally in a way no one else has yet equalled, despite the globalisation of today.

By the eighties, he was an international figure, recognised and honoured in several countries. In 1980, he was honoured by the Legislature of the Virgin Islands, in 1981, by Carifesta IV. In 1984, the city of New York declared May 18th Mighty Sparrow's Day, as the City of Winnipeg did on June 3, 1987, and the Borough of Brooklyn did on August 25, 1990. In 1987, the University of the West Indies made him an honorary Doctor of Letters. He had just returned from another visit to Nigeria, this time as Chief Omo Wale of Ikoyi, during his National Tour of Africa.

He has been presented with lifetime awards, with tributes for his contributions to communities, to the steelpan, calypso and world music. No calypsonian has so dominated his period as the Mighty Sparrow has done.

There have been several remarkable epochs in the history of calypso, and the talents that have emerged have been tremendous. As one of the masters of this epoch, David Rudder has pointed out in song, to name a few would make the others look small; but it is because he has been able to rise to the top of this pool of fecundity, Sparrow's role is particularly extraordinary.

His contributions have been significant in shaping the course of calypso and for that, we salute him as our calypsonian of the century.

 

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Last update: 03/19/12

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