SENTIMENTS of relief surged internationally following the (authorised) announcement that the Mighty Sparrow, born Slinger Francisco, had emerged from a coma in the New York hospital where he has been treated. For two weeks before, a decline in his condition had been marked by false alarms and distressingly exaggerated reports.
Proliferating unfounded chatter, now immediately universalised by means of social media, might have, in the heyday of Sparrow, become material for calypso songs. It is for such songs, blending reports and commentary, with humour and wit and sharp satire, that he has long been justly celebrated.
Indeed, the personality and public image of Sparrow, and observations and reflections on his doings and lifestyle, have constituted a staple element of his voluminous output. Always, in the swaggering style of the calypsonian, made especially famous by him, he has emerged triumphant, as much in fantasy projections as in fact.
The Mighty Sparrow’s calypso achievements remain unsurpassed, to the extent that he has been unchallengeably hailed as world calypso king. In the encyclopaedic 1995 publication, The Faber Companion to 20th Century Popular Music, he is described as “the most important figure in the development of calypso music since the 50s”. The Faber book also noted he had produced more than 40 albums, a measure of artistic productivity that speaks volumes for itself.
Sparrow’s works cover the emergence of modern Trinidad and Tobago, starting with the decline and end of colonialism, which had enabled the US military occupation from during World War Two, and its multifaceted effects on T&T society and life. Apart from abundant songs related to Carnival merrymaking, Sparrow earned eminent recognition for wide-ranging and highly quotable “social commentary”, over the years, through the West Indian Federation, into Independence and long thereafter.
So far from having retired hurt, even as, with advancing age, his health declined, Sparrow, has continued to perform from a personal songbook exhaustive in scope and distinguished in quality. When not performing his own work, he has entertained audiences with interpretations from the repertoires of international pop balladeers.
“The ways of an artist are his own,” wrote CLR James in reference to Sparrow around 1962. “You can only judge by the result.”
Such are the results of Sparrow’s “ways” that he has been the recipient of national awards and of a UWI honorary doctorate. In T&T, and wherever in the world his words and music have found devoted followers, hopes remain that Sparrow will retain his elevated perch in calypso and Caribbean culture generally, and do so actively for as long as he is able.
The artist who migrated from Grenada as an infant, today claims residence both in the US and in T&T. Now that he is reported by his daughter to be “responding very well to treatment”, the hope expressed here, on behalf of T&T and the Caribbean, is that he can soon give effect to the refrain he made unforgettable decades ago, “Sparrow, come back home”.