calypso artist Lord Kitchener dies at 77
PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad (Reuters)
- Lord Kitchener, a legendary Caribbean calypso artist who carried the
music of his native Trinidad and Tobago to international acclaim, died
Friday at age 77, a hospital official said.
Kitchener, whose real name was Aldwyn
Roberts, succumbed to a severe infection brought on by a blood disorder
and organ failure, said Dr. Leslie Ann Roberts, assistant general manager
at the Eric Williams Medical Complex on the outskirts of the Trinidad capital.
The son of a blacksmith in the eastern
Trinidad town of Arima, Kitchener became an international star of calypso,
Trinidad's native musical style. Calypso, which is related to reggae, often
has satirical or political lyrics and features steel pan drums made of
55 gallon drums.
In Arima, Kitchener was first hired
to sing calypso for 12 cents but he went on to performances in England
after World War II with calypso artists Lion, Atilla and Growling Tiger.
His childhood friend, Clifford Danclare,
80, recalled how the budding star regularly led schoolboys in chanting
rhymes when his school met opposing teams in sports matches.
``I never saw Kitchener actually
learning to play the guitar or the string bass,'' Danclare said. ``All
Kitchener's pan melodies came from the blacksmith shop.''
Nicknamed ``Stringbean'' for his
lanky physique, Kitchener was a prolific writer and singer whose greatest
hits included: ''Green Fig Man,'' ``Chinee never had a VJ day,'' ``The
Beat of the Steelband,'' ``Tribute to Spree Simon'' and ``Pan in Harmony.''
Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister
Basdeo Panday told Parliament Friday he had made an offer to Lord Kitchener's
relatives to arrange and pay for an official funeral for the ''departed
genius,'' with flags flown at half-staff at government buildings.
``Mr Speaker, were it not a breach
of protocol, I would petition you, sir, to invite the honorable house to
rise in salute to a son of the soil, a brother to us all whose life was
lived in lifting the spirit of his people and of the world, for well beyond
a half of the twentieth century,'' Panday said.
A few years ago fans demanded that
Kitchener be honored with the highest award of his homeland, the Trinity
Cross, for his contribution to culture.
Angry that he was given a lesser
award, some fans raised money for a stone statue by now-deceased artist
Pat Chu Foon. The work, featuring the legendary calypso artist in
his trademark jacket, tie and fedora, stands in the western township outside
the Trinidad and Tobago capital, Port of Spain.
``I hope we will now consider a Trinity
Cross for him,'' said Finance Minister Brian Kuei Tung, a Kitchener fan.
``It's a pity he has not achieved the Bob Marley-type acclaim internationally.
He is a true son of the soil.''
Kitchener, 77, Calypso Songwriter
By JON PARELES
Lord Kitchener, whose sly wit and graceful melodies made him one
of Trinidad's most beloved calypso songwriters, died on Friday at a
hospital in Port of Spain, Trinidad. He was 77 and lived in Diego Martin,
just outside Port of Spain.
The cause was a severe infection brought on by a blood disorder, said
his manager, Isaac McLeod.
Lord Kitchener, whose real name was Aldwyn Roberts, wrote party
tunes and pointed political statements, risqué songs and reminders
heritage and history, singing in a voice that always seemed to convey a
dapper wink. His songs were esteemed for their tunes as well as for their
humor. He linked calypso to Afro-Cuban rhythms and jazz, and his tunes
were regularly arranged for steel bands, winning competitions as
He carried calypso abroad, spreading its influence to Jamaica and Ghana
and establishing himself as a recording star in Britain. At Trinidad's
carnival contests his songs won the Road March award (for the song
played and sung most often by parading carnival groups) 10 times and
won the Panorama steel-drum orchestra competition 18 times, more than
any other songwriter. He had hits for five decades.
Aldwyn Roberts was born in Arima, Trinidad. His father, a blacksmith,
taught him the rudiments of guitar and calypso, then called kaiso, which
had taken hold in Trinidad in the 1920's. When Aldwyn was 14 the death
of his parents forced him to drop out of school. His first paying job was
to entertain the employees of the water company as they laid pipes.
Mr. Roberts had his first local hit, "Shops Close Too Early," in 1938,
he was named calypso king of Arima in the local carnival competition
from 1938 to 1942, before he moved to Port of Spain. There he joined a
group called the Roving Brigade, which performed in movie houses
around the city. He was hired by the promoter for the Victory Tent, a
calypso performance club, where he made $1 a night working alongside
top calypsonians including Growling Tiger, Roaring Lion and Attila the
His first major hit, in 1944, was "Green Fig," a husband's complaint that
his cheating wife would not even cook him a good meal. Growling Tiger
renamed him Lord Kitchener, after the English field marshal and war
secretary. He became a steady hit maker, entertaining American troops
as well as Trinidadians; he performed "Green Fig" for President Harry S.
Truman when he visited Trinidad in 1945. In 1947 he opened his own
calypso tent to feature what he called the Young Brigade, dedicated to
peppier, horn-driven, Latin-tinged calypso songs that played down
politics in favor of teasing double-entendres.
But after winning the carnival competition in 1947, Lord Kitchener left
Trinidad. He performed in Aruba and stayed for six months in Jamaica,
then moved to London, where he was a sensation. He sometimes
worked at three clubs in a night. Lord Kitchener recorded for the
Parlophone and Melodisc labels, and he sang for Princess Margaret at
the Chesterfield Club. Some of his songs, like "White and Black" and
"Africa My Home," protested the racism he met in Britain; others were
He moved to Manchester in the north of England, and opened his own
club. He toured the United States in the mid-1950's, and even as an
expatriate he continued to have hits in Trinidad. When he toured in Africa
his music was embraced in Ghana, where calypso became an influence
on high-life music.
After 16 years abroad Lord Kitchener returned to Trinidad in 1963 and
won the Road March competition three years running, as well as in 1967
and 1968; he won five more Road Marches from 1970 to 1976. As
instrumentals his tunes won the Panorama contest in 1964 and every year
from 1967 to 1977, with three more Panorama winners in both the
1980's and the 1990's.
"His songs were structured for the steel band," said Ralston Charles, the
owner of Charlie's Records, who produced Lord Kitchener's 1978 hit
"Sugar Bum Bum," one of the first international hits in the modernized
calypso style called soca. "That's where he gathered all his fame."
He started the Calypso Revue tent in 1964, and with it he became a
mentor to leading calypsonians of the younger generations. When soca
sped up calypso and cut back on its lyrics, Lord Kitchener embraced it
as a legacy of what his Young Brigade had done decades earlier. He was
inducted into calypso's Sunshine Awards Hall of Fame in 1989.
Wearing his trademark suit, tie and fedora, he performed regularly into
the 1990's, including annual appearances at the Mother's Day and
Father's Day all-star calypso shows in New York City. "I've tried to
make calypso more intelligent and make soca more danceable," he said
in an interview with Billboard magazine.
In 1993 a petition drive urged the government of Trinidad and Tobago to
award Lord Kitchener its highest civilian honor, the Trinity Cross. When
the government chose instead to present him with a lesser award, he
turned it down.
He is survived by two sons and two daughters. One, Kernel Roberts, is a
singer who continues to perform Lord Kitchener's songs at the Calypso
Revue, his club in Port of Spain.
The Trinidad government offered to give Lord Kitchener an official
funeral. But his family rejected the ceremony, The Trinidad Express
reported on Saturday. "Kitch is a man of the people, and the ordinary
man must have the opportunity, if he doesn't have a suit, to come to the
funeral," Rose Janniere, a friend of the family, told the newspaper.
of Trinidadian music who introduced the calypso to Britain
The arrival, in 1948 at Tilbury docks,
of "Lord Kitchener", who has died
aged 77, is preserved on film. He had
his guitar with him, and Kitchener,
one of the great calypsonians - and the
trailblazer responsible for the
growth of Trinidadian music's popularity
in Britain - appears as one of
those dignified representatives of first-generation
He was exotic, immaculately dressed and,
as is the calypsonian's wont,
ready with a line in topical verse.
Kitchener arrived on the Empire Windrush,
the vessel that brought the first
substantial group of postwar West Indian
immigrants to Britain. He was one
of the few Trinidadians on the ship -
the majority were Jamaican - and he
stayed for 14 years.
In 1951 he was on film again, leading the
pitch invasion at Lords which
followed the West Indies cricket team's
first victory over England. By
then, he was a chronicler of the Caribbean
experience in Britain. There
were calypsos like I Can't Stand The Cold
In Winter, If You're Brown, My
Landlady, and, more positively, London
Is The Place For Me.
Calypso was shaped in Trinidad, where its
blend of Latin American and
African rhythms has long been a hugely
popular vehicle for social and
political commentary, witty insult, sexual
innuendo and - as "the people's
newspaper" - a way of analysing topical
Kitchener's first weeks in England were
spent singing to bemused audiences
in pubs, but within six months he had
broken into the London nightclub
circuit with his own band. The key to
his success was an ability to reach
beyond the Caribbean diaspora - indeed,
Princess Margaret reputedly bought
100 copies of his Ah Bernice to send to
With his earnings, he opened his own club
in Manchester in 1958. But he
retained his links with home. Throughout
his stay, he sent songs back to
Trinidad for its annual carnival; and,
in London, he was part of the milieu
which gave birth to the Notting Hill carnival
in the late 1960s. By the
time he moved back to Trinidad in late
1962 - after that country's
independence - he had become a revered
link with the prewar calypsonian
tradition. He took his homeland by storm.
Aldwyn Roberts had taken the stage name
"Kitchener" as a teenager. Born in
Arima, he had resolved that, despite a
lifelong stammer, he was going to
make his fortune as a calypso singer.
"Lord" was a title awarded by his
Back home after England, he won Trinidad's
road march title - awarded to
the singer whose calypso is most played
on the streets at each year's
carnival - a staggering 10 times between
1963 and 1976, more than anyone
else ever achieved. Crowned "Road March
King of the World", he dominated
the carnival: "Somebody going to frighten
bad/ Because Kitchener come back
to Trinidad." Thus wrote Tiny Terror in
his Tribute To Kitchener calypso.
Mighty Sparrow was his only rival. In 1975,
after Kitch won the carnival's
annual calypso monarch competition, he
and Sparrow retired from the event
to open the field for other contenders.
Kitch recorded up to his death, performing
with a vitality that put younger
calypsonians to shame. He ran his own
calypso tent for more than 30 years
in Port of Spain, nurturing talent such
as David Rudder and Black Stallion.
He also composed for steel bands, having
loved the steel pan since its
emergence in the 1940s.
His style, concentrating on humour, double
entendre and the quirks of
everyday life, was sometimes criticised
for its frivolity. But he did
contribute to calypso's tradition of political
commentary - speaking out
against the government when other calypsonians
kept quiet during Trinidad's
1970 black-power revolution. He supported
pan-Africanism with his song
Africa My Home (1957), and some of his
early songs, including Yankee
Sufferers (1945), were banned by the British
Twice married, Kitch only left Trinidad
for occasional tours in later life,
cultivating a lifestyle that fitted his
essential shyness. The people of
Trinidad loved him. Latterly, his face
appeared on a postage stamp, and
there is a statue of him outside Port
of Spain. He turned down a Chaconia
medal, insulted that he was not thought
worthy of Trinidad's highest
honour, the Trinity Cross.
Kitch proclaimed himself the "grandmaster
of calypso". He was.
Aldwyn Roberts, 'Lord Kitchener', calypsonian,
born April 18 1922; died
February 11 2000