Saturday, February 24, 2018

Celebrating the evergreen Sparrow

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Mark Fraser

There are many reasons for celebrating the Mighty Sparrow but one of the most compelling is surely the spirit of the man.

The Mighty Sparrow belongs to an entertainment elite of rare vintage. As he reached his 79th birthday yesterday, eagerly anticipating his 80th celebration, the legendary calypsonian gave expression to his evergreen spirit, singing “Happy birthday to me”, as he invited everyone to sing along. No one gives more active meaning to the theme of his memorable song, “Age is just a number”. With his commitment to craft, his obvious joy in entertaining his fans and the sheer willpower that keeps him keeping on, the Mighty Sparrow is an example to all of the possibilities of living life to the fullest.

The all-surpassing calypsonian, whose latest accomplishment was surviving life-threatening illness, this year also added the stellar national recognition of the Order of Trinidad and Tobago to the Order of the Caribbean Community which was bestowed on him a year ago. No string of awards, however, could compare with the string of calypsoes with which he has adorned our lives. There is almost nothing that he has not sung about and no occasion that cannot be enhanced by a Sparrow calypso. He has truly given us music for every season and lyrics for every reason. For durability and talent, the Mighty Sparrow is a class all of his own.

Although gone are the days when he would flit about the stage, earning himself the Sparrow sobriquet, the singer who emerged to glory in 1956 continues to perform to sold out audiences. This week he is the toast of the town in a series of concerts marking his birthday and celebrating his presence among us. While he may not be as lively on his legs as before, Sparrow boasts that his “memory is at 100 per cent”, and that he is capable of drawing upon an incomparable repertoire that includes songs in Spanish, Dutch, French patois, French and “the good old Queen’s English”. He has much more than a varied oeuvre to offer, though. Sparrow’s body of work, as sociology and music, is unrivalled as an archive of public life and attitudes of T&T society, in particular, and Caribbean society in general.

At a time in T&T when there sometimes appears regrettably little to celebrate and much to grieve over, the cheerful self-preservation of a true cultural icon provides occasion for genuine national pride and joy. Amid the circumstances of his declining years, Sparrow sets an example of admirable self-control by restricting himself to just “half a beer” even as he remains willing to give 100 per cent plus to his fans.

As we mark his 79th birthday and look forward to next year’s 80th celebration and beyond, we wish the Mighty Sparrow many years of good health and great times.

Stay aloft, Birdie, flying as high as you can, for as long as you can.