Though she was barely able to walk a week before because of gout, Calypso Rose was still able to woo her audience Sunday afternoon/evening, as Brooklyn paid tribute to the woman who “broke the glass ceiling” in the calypso genre.
“This woman – sometimes I sit and wonder what got that woman to sing calypso in the 1950s and survive,” said popular Grenadian-born radio personality Harold Pysadee, a co-Master of Ceremonies, at a grand tribute in honor of Calypso Rose, renowned as the “Calypso Queen of the World,” at the Brooklyn Christian Center, on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn.
“Every woman you see singing calypso today is because of Calypso Rose,” added Pysadee at the event organized by the Brooklyn-based Dee Vee International Productions, headed by Grenadian-born entertainment producer Derek Ventour.
“Calypso Rose has set the pace,” he continued. “[Calypso] Rose is a Caribbean Lady first of all.”
Bronx-based Gus White, a former announcer with the popular, legendary Radio Antilles in Montserrat, who also served as Master of Ceremonies, said he was “honored to be part of this function” that honored Calypso Rose.
“Dr. McArtha Lewis, Calypso Rose, for what you have done, I’ll truly grateful,” he said.
Dave Elcock, an erstwhile popular radio personality in Trinidad and Tobago, also gave his “heartfelt congratulations to our beloved McArtha Lewis, the indomitable Calypso Rose,” adding that Calypso Rose hase won “countless” fans and over 23 awards, over the years, for her catchy songs, including the “evergreen,” signature “Fire, Fire.”
Elcock, who sat next to Rose, during the near three-hour-long event, noted that she was the first female to win the Trinidad and Tobago Road March Competition.
“This is the spirit that we lionize today,” he said.
Noting that the Caribbean community, the single largest population of Caribbean people outside of the islands, is “critical to every sector of our city’s life,” New York City Mayor Bill deBlasio said Sunday’s tribute was “a wonderful opportunity to celebrate one of its most creative and trailblazing artists.
“By sharing the transcendent spirit, rich sounds and contagious rhythms of Trinidad and Tobago, Calypso Rose has given the world a great gift,” said deBlasio in his message. “I applaud her extraordinary talent and distinguished legacy, which enriches lives throughout the five boroughs and well beyond.
“On behalf of the City of New York, Chirlane and I offer our congratulations to Calypso Rose for receiving an honorary doctorate from the University of the West Indies, and extend our best wishes for a joyful celebration and continued success uniting the world through song,” the mayor added.
The Rev. Dennis Dillon, the Jamaican-born pastor and founder of the Brooklyn Christian Center, said he was “grateful” for Calypso Rose’s “leadership, her inspirational spirit and for doing what few people have done.
“Many people at the Christian Center they dance to your music all the time,” he said looking at Calypso Rose seated at the front pew. “We salute you for your inspiration to all of us.
“I’m not saying that we shouldn’t say Calypso Rose, but it’s Dr. McArtha Lewis you’all,” added Rev. Dillon, alluded to the honorary doctorate recently conferred on Calypso Rose by the University of the West Indies.
Among others paying tribute in song, speeches, dances, instruments and poems were: Ujamma Pan Sounds; Carriacou, Grenadian-born Blackman, lead singer of the band Lambert & the Matadors; former Grenadian calypsonian-turned-gospel singer Janice Charles; Vincentian Collin Connell; Grenadian calypsonian Lady Samo; Calypso Rose’s granddaughter Arianna Butler (dance); Ziad Garraway (poetry; and Jude Phillip and Joe Allert (trumpeter and saxophonist, respectively).
“Last week, I couldn’t walk. Thank God for bush medicine,” said Calypso Rose before belching out hits from her diverse repertoire, as well as contemporary gospel and Christmas songs, referring to the medicine that helped her recover from a bout of gout.
“Thank God for giving me the inspiration for writing my songs,” she added.
Rose then rocked the house with, among others, “Jesus is My Rock,” “You Must Call,” “Coming up the Mountain,” “Senior Citizen Day,” “Fire, Fire”; and “O Christmas”.
She brought down the house with a medley, comprising: “What a Friend We Have in Jesus,” “Jesus Meek and Gentle,” “Leaning on the Everlasting Arm,” “Anchor Hold,” “Washed in the Blood,” “Hail the Power,” “When the Roll is Called,” and “It is Well with My Soul.” Calypso Rose — whose relatives are the Sandys in Happy Hill, St. George’s, Grenada — was born on April 27, 1940 in Bethel, a small village in Tobago, Trinidad’s sister island.
When she was 15, she began singing calypso in contests during the Carnival season in Trinidad and Tobago.
But though she had garnered a number of regional hits throughout the years, including her most famous, “Fire, Fire”, which she wrote in 1966, Calypso Rose did not win any of the major calypso contests until 1977.
That year, she was the first woman ever to win the Trinidad and Tobago Road March Competition with “Tempo.”
A year later, she won the National Calypso King Competition – which prompted a name change (it’s now called the National Calypso Monarch Competition) – with “I Thank Thee” and “Her Majesty.”
That same year, Rose won the Trinidad Road March Competition for the second year successive year, with “Gimme More Tempo.”
Calypso Rose has headlined at major venues and festivals throughout the U.S., Europe and Australia.
As of 2011, she is the most decorated calypsonian in Trinidad and Tobago’s history, and was awarded the Trinidad and Tobago Gold Humming Bird Medal, an award given to Trinidadians “for loyal and devoted service beneficial to the state in any field, or acts of gallantry.”
Though Calypso Rose moved to Jamaica, Queens in 1983, she returns to Trinidad and Tobago for carnival every year.
In 1996, she battled and beat breast cancer. She continues to tour regularly on multiple continents, and records music.
On Sunday, she told patrons that she has been booked for performances in Canada in the coming months, and will tour France and England in March.
To date, Calypso Rose said she has written “well over 800 songs.”
In 2011, a feature-length documentary, entitled “Calypso Rose: The Lioness of the Jungle,” was released at Cannes Film Festival.
Directed by Pascale Obolo, the documentary tells Calypso Rose’s story through interviews and live concert footage, among others.
“I saw the event as a celebration – not just for her achievement from the University of the West Indies but for recognizing her role in exposing this unique Caribbean culture throughout the world,” Ventour told Caribbean Life about the Tribute to Calypso Rose.
“She led the way for women to get involved in the art form, and we need to recognize her for all her efforts,” he added. “So the tribute was all about celebrating her contribution to the growth of Caribbean music.”