Internationally renowned calypso and Soca pioneer The Mighty Sparrow performed on Saba for the first time in more than 39 years during Tuesday’s “Back in da Days” night as part of the Summer Carnival festivities at Princess Juliana Sports Field in The Bottom. This writes The Daily Herald.
Sparrow (79) was backed up by the Jolly Boys, Zee and “Philosopher of Comedy” Fernando Clark while performing some of his classic songs such as Salt Fish, Only a Fool Breaks His Own Heart, and Jean and Dinah.
“Mighty Sparrow proved he is a true calypso legend,” said Commissioner of Culture Bruce Zagers. “The show he was able to put on at the age of 79 is something you cannot match. Even as a younger person you have to be so impressed when a man of that age has that much charisma. I think the people of Saba were in awe. It was very impressive.”
Mighty Sparrow, whose birth name is Slinger Francisco, last performed on the island in 1975 at a cultural event sponsored by Saba Foundation for Culture and Arts. Ironically, that was also the year of Saba’s first Carnival, although Sparrow’s appearance was at a separate cultural event organized by Carmen Simmons.
In 1956, Sparrow won his first Carnival Road March and Calypso King Competition in his native Trinidad with his most famous song, Jean and Dinah, aka “Yankees Gone,” a song celebrating the departure of the United States’ troops from Trinidad. Over the years, his energetic stage performances and political activism helped propel his career to international acclaim. Sparrow eventually joined fellow Trinidadian expatriate Lord Kitchener to help popularize Calypso music in Great Britain. He started recording in the US after signing a contract with RCA Victor records with the help of Harry Belafonte. He had his greatest international success in the 1970s, starting with the album The Best Of, featuring live recordings in Brooklyn, New York. In 1974, he recorded the album Hot and Sweet for Warner Brothers Records in Miami. He had a big hit in 1977 with “Crawford.”
As Soca began to supplant Calypso in popularity during the late 1970s and early 1980s, Sparrow embraced the hybrid of Calypso and Cadence. In 1984, he won his eighth Road March title with the Soca-infl uenced “Doh Back Back.”
Sparrow’s adaptability helped bring out both young and old on Tuesday night. The turnout was good, Zagers said. “It was great to see so many of the elderly people coming out to see a Soca legend. They really enjoyed hearing his music and it was incredible seeing the folks that I’ve never seen out for Carnival…Everybody had a good time.” Although less active since the mid-1990s, Sparrow continued to write, perform and tour into the 21st century. In 2008, he released the song “Barack the Magnificent,” in supporting Barack Obama’s presidential campaign.
In 2010, he left the stage in a wheelchair after a performance in Trinidad, and later that year was hospitalised after suffering an inguinal hernia while performing in Maryland. He made a full recovery and continued to tour internationally. However, in September 2013, he was due to receive a lifetime achievement award from the Trinidad and Tobago consulate in New York, but was admitted to a New York hospital where he fell into a coma for two weeks before regaining consciousness. He returned to public performance in January 2014 with a 40-minute set at a bar in Brooklyn.
His most recent performance on Saba was a testament to his resilience and longevity. “That voice is as strong as it has ever been,” said Commissioner Chris Johnson during a special presentation following the set. “Our people have loved (Sparrow) since he sang “Jean and Dinah.” It was an honour and privilege to have him here. We welcome him back again to Saba and we hope that this is not the last visit.”