Making our mark on the world stage
The 'Express' continues its series looking back at some of the significant events and accomplishments since 1962 when Trinidad and Tobago became an Independent Nation. Wayne Bowman this week explores the achievements of some of our fellow Trinbagonians on the international arena in the spheres of music, acting and filmmaking.
The first name that pops to mind when exploring Trinbagonian success on the international music front is, Nicki Minaj who was defined recently by the New York Times as the most influential female hip-hop artiste ever.
Born, Onika Maraj in Trinidad, Minaj's parents migrated to the US when she was a toddler leaving her in the care of her grandmother. They sent for her a couple of years later and well, you know the progression from there.
Some Trinbagonians engage in bashing Minaj whenever she appears in the local newspapers saying her music and image are vacuous. That, however, does not change the fact that she is a global phenomenon and that her success has introduced this nation to many who knew nothing of it before Minaj began to take every opportunity to tell people about her homeland.
Staying in the hip-hop arena we should mention Foxy Brown who was born in Brooklyn to Trinidadian parents. Although not born here, Brown does identify with her Trinbagonian roots and has actually in the past campaigned for the role of US Youth Ambassador to Trinidad and Tobago as a means of giving back to where her parents came from. Only last week, Minaj hailed Brown as a mentor and the true, most influential woman in hip-hop.
Moving along we come to Billy Ocean who was born, Leslie Sebastian William Charles on 21 January, 1950 in Fyzabad. Interestingly Ocean, during his heyday, was not as open about his roots as is Minaj.
Ocean's run of success began in 1984 with the release of the album, Suddenly from which was spawned the mega hit, "Caribbean Queen". In subsequent years Ocean made it to the Billboard Charts with hits such as "Suddenly," "Loverboy," "When The Going Gets Tough," "There'll Be Sad Songs," "Love Is Forever" and "Get Outta My Dreams, Get Into My Car".
Brian Green is a Trinidadian opera singer/actor who during the 1980's left here to study in London where he attended the Academy of Live and Recorded Arts. From there Green ended up performing at the Sydney Theatre Company and then on to leading roles in theatre productions in places such as Sicily, Italy, Spain, New York and France where he is now based.
In 1969 Sullivan Walker won a trip to New York for participating in the Scouting for Talent competition. The young man from San Fernando saw an opportunity and grabbed it, remaining in the US to pursue a career in acting. He was a regular on the Cosby Show playing Heathcliff Huxtable's gregarious Trinidadian friend, Dr James Harmon. Walker also played the role of 50-Cent's uncle in Get Rich or Die Trying and Yale in the television series, Earth 2 among numerous other roles. Walker died of a heart attack on February 20 this year at his home in Los Angeles, California, USA.
Olun Riley is a senior lighting artist and digital artist who is considered to be among the top in his field out in the United States. He grew up in Cascade and studied fine arts at the University of Toronto before doing animation at Sheridan College. He works with Walt Disney Animation Studios and has worked on movies such as Anastasia, The Polar Express, Tangled, X-Men, Vanilla Sky, Bolt, Meet The Robinsons, Ocean's 11 and Monster House.
Shaun Esgayg is another Trinidadian making waves in the animation and film arenas out in the United States. He animated Bumblebee and the Worm in the Transformers 3: Dark of the Moon movie and his own short film, Fish made it to the final round of the You Film Festival 2012.
Heather Headley, born on October 5, 1974 is an R&B and soul singer, songwriter, record producer, and actress. She has won one Tony Award and one Grammy Award to date and her career is only really just building steam.
In 1997 Headley portrayed the role of Nala in The Lion King Broadway musical delivering a fantastic performance. This was followed by the title role in the Broadway adaptation of Aida, which earned her the Tony Award for Best Actress in 2000. In 2010 Headley won her first Grammy Award for Best Contemporary R&B Gospel Album for the CD collection titled, Audience of One on the EMI Gospel label.
There have been sterling achievements by other Trinbagonians on the international stage, but space doesn't allow for elaboration on everyone. We must however make mention of Geoffrey Holder whose sterling career began in 1954 – even before Independence. He won a Tony Award in 1975 for his direction of the Broadway musical The Wiz. He also worked on movies such as The Little Mermaid, Boomerang, Annie and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
Although he was born in the United States to Trinidadian parents, Ralph MacDonald considered himself a Trinbagonian. He was a respected songwriter of world renown and percussionist who in the early 1980s composed a song titled, "Just The Two Of Us," which is today a certified classic in the R&B and jazz arenas.
The song was originally recorded by Bill Withers and Grover Washington Jr alongside MacDonald who would tell you that the song was a love song for this nation. He always told the story of him offering the song to the then government at no charge whatsoever to be used as a jingle promoting the twin island nation as a tourist destination, but it was rejected. Someone surely was hitting their head on a wall when the song won a Grammy Award. MacDonald died of lung cancer on December 18, 2011.