Calypso Rose

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Calypso Rose honoured in Siparia

By Gary Cardinez

The fourth annual Diatonic Siparia Steel in Motion came off on the evening of May 10 on the streets of Siparia.

During the event, president of Diatonic, Keith Byer presented former minister of culture Joan Yullie-Williams with an award on behalf of Calypso Rose (McCartha Linda Sandy Lewis) for her sterling contribution to the steelband and calypso culture of Trinidad and Tobago.  

The 2014 Steel in Motion was in honour of Calypso Rose who has been in calypso for 50 years and has composed over 800 songs and recorded 20 albums.

In the seventies Calypso Rose dominated the Calypso Queen Competition winning the title five years straight (1972-1976). She was also the first female calypsonian to win a Road March title (1977) and repeated the feat again in 1978. 

Seven single-pan bands took part in the two competitions where they had to play a religious song and a song from the pen of Calypso Rose. The street jam featured five guest performers in Sangre Grande Cordettes, San Fernando Old Tech, Point Fortin Tornadoes and Couva Joylanders.

In the competitions Nostrand Symphony played “Carry Your Candle” and “Rose”, Gonzales Sheikers played “You Raise Me Up” and “Tempo”, City Sun Valley played “Theme from Exodus” and “Her Majesty”, T &T Fire Service played “Hear O Lord” and “Tempo”, Scorpion Pan Reflections played “Jordan River” and “Banana”, Harlem Syncopators played “Let There be Peace on Earth” and “Her Majesty” and La Famille played “When the Roll is Called Up Yonder’ and “Her Majesty”.

 

Calypso Rose (McCartha Linda Sandy Lewis) was born on April 27, 1940 in Bethel, a small, relatively in-land village on the tiny island of Tobago. Her family was musical: her grandfather was a violinist who performed at weddings and celebrations, and her grandmother sang. Lewis lived with her parents and her ten siblings in a two-bedroom house until she was nine years old, at which point she went to live with an aunt and uncle on the neighbouring island of Trinidad. As a child, she suffered from a stammer, which apparently still affects her if she gets excited about a conversation.

At the age of 15, Lewis boldly began singing calypso music in the calypso contests that would happen during Carnival season. Though she was not the first woman to ever do so, calypso was by and large a man’s genre at the time (and, indeed, to this day it remains heavily male-dominated), but she quickly gained the respect of many (though not all) of her fellow calypsonians.

Though Calypso Rose had garnered a number of regional hits throughout the years, including her most famous song, “Fire in me Wire”, which she wrote in 1966, she did not win any of the major calypso contests until 1977. That year, she was the first woman ever to win the Trinidad Road March competition, which she won with her song “Tempo”. In 1978, she won the National Calypso King competition (which prompted a name change—it’s now the National Calypso Monarch competition) with her songs “I Thank Thee” and “Her Majesty”. Also in 1978, she won the Trinidad Road March competition for the second year in a row with “Gimme More Tempo”.

Winning the prestigious awards in the late 1970s really put Calypso Rose on the map as the undisputed queen of the genre, and she has gone on to make internationally popular records ever since. She’s also headlined at major venues and festivals throughout the US, Europe, and Australia. As of 2011, she is the most decorated calypsonian in Trinidad’s history, and was awarded the Trinidad and Tobago Hummingbird Medal (Gold), an award given to Trinidadians “for loyal and devoted service beneficial to the state in any field, or acts of gallantry”.

Calypso Rose moved to Jamaica, Queens in 1983, though returns to Trinidad for Carnival season each year. In 1996, she battled and beat breast cancer. She continues to tour regularly on multiple continents and record music—at this point, she estimates that she has written well over 800 songs.

In 2011, a feature-length documentary called Calypso Rose: The Lioness of the Jungle was released at Cannes Film Festival. Directed by Pascale Obolo, it tells Calypso Rose’s story through interviews, live concert footage, and more. 

—worldmusic.about.com

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