Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



(b Slinger Francisco, 9 July 1935, Grandroy Bay, Grenada) Calypso King of the World, soca artist. He moved to Port of Spain as an infant and grew up in poverty; sang for extra milk at Newtown Boys RC School, also as an acolyte at St Patrick's RC Church; formed a steel band with other boys. Inspired by radio adverts sung in calypso style, he heard calypsonians at local Spike Club and debuted in the Old Brigade calypso tent in 1954 as Little Sparrow, first recorded '55. Dr Eric Williams (d 1981) won elections in 1956, his People's National Movement ruling Trinidad and Tobago for 30 years; 'Jean And Dinah' won both Road March and Calypso Monarch, expressing joy about Yankees final departure from Trinidad: calypsonians had been without social standing but took on a celebratory rather than a protesting role with the nationalist government; for ten years Sparrow's political calypsos supported the PNM, e.g. 'William The Conqueror' '57 on the Balisier label (named after a plant, emblem of the PNM). That year he produced the first calypso album, King Sparrow's Calypso Carnival for the 1958 season (including 'Pay As You Earn', supporting a new income tax law).

In '57-9 he did not enter the Monarch contest in protest against small prizes and bad conditions. Sparrow In Hi-Fi '59 was followed by Road March and Monarch wins with 'May May' '60; his other entry that year 'Ten To One Is Murder' was a public defence against a charge of wounding with intent (he was acquitted). Sparrow: Calypso King '61 on RCA included 'Princess And The Cameraman' (bewildered that Princess Margaret could marry a mere cameraman), 'Madam Dracula', attacking his then-rival Lord Melody (Fitzroy Alexander: 1926-88). He won the Road March '61 with 'Royal Jail' (Sparrow The Conqueror on RCA); first UK appearance/UK LP debut was The Calypso King Of Trinidad '61, including 'May May', 'Royal Jail'. He won the Monarch '62 with songs included in Sparrow Come Back; Sparrow At The Sheraton included concert versions of 'Ten To One Is Murder', 'Dan Is The Man' (one of his '63 entries, a satire on primary education; he used a theatrical disguise in his live act for the first time in calypso). True Stories Of Passion, People And Politics on Mace USA included 'The Slave' '63, which he still performs; Congo Man '65 on Hilary (aka Trinidad Heat Wave on Mace) included 'Solomon Out' and 'Get To Hell Outa Here', the first about a cabinet minister who resigned, accused of using his office to free his stepson from police detention, the other quoting Williams's advice to those criticizing his handling of the incident: disappointment with Williams marked one of Sparrow's last political calypsos until the 1980s.

He retired from Monarch competition '65-71. Genius '66 on Hilary included the Road March winner 'Obeah Wedding (Melda)'; Sparrow Meets The Dragon '67 on SpaLee, made with Jamaican bandleader Byron Lee, and Sparrow Calypso Carnival '68 followed by More Sparrow More '69, regarded as one of his best; Calypso Time, Many Moods Of Sparrow '70-71 were followed by a response to a challenge '72 from the Mighty Duke (Kelvin Pope), who won the Calypso Monarch four consecutive times: Sparrow re-entered and beat Duke into last place with 'Rope' and 'Drunk And Disorderly' (the latter also won Road March), included in Hotter Than Ever '72; then won Monarch three years in a row; albums were Calypso Spectacular '73, Knock Dem Down Sparrow and Peace Pipe (by his backing band, Calypso Troubadours), both '74; Calypso Maestro '75.

He remade some of his earlier calypsos in Miami for Hot And Sweet '74 on WB. From '75 he withdrew from the Monarch contest, still eligible for the Road March. Sparrow vs. The Rest was made in Jamaica; Sparrow Dragon was a reunion with Byron Lee, both '76 on Dynamic. Boogie Beat '77 on Semp was a flop; NYC Black Out '78 on Charlie's was better; the ballad 'Only A Fool Breaks His Own Heart' was a no. 1 hit in Holland, in charts there for 20 weeks; LP Only A Fool '78 on Trojan sold two million copies in the EC. By '79 he had embraced soca: Pussy Cat Party included 'Rip Off'; 25th Anniversary '80 was the first two-disc calypso album; Sanford '81 revived political comment, 'Karl Say' hinting support for Organization for National Reconstruction party opposing PNM (that became part of National Alliance for Reconstruction, which won a landslide late '86); next year Sweeter Than Ever included 'We Like It So (Steel Beam)', on political conservatism of Trinidadians. The Greatest '83 includded 'Capitalism Gone Mad' and 'Philip My Dear', the latter an irreverent treatment of the entry of Michael Fagin into Queen Elizabeth II's Buckingham Palace bedroom. King Of The World '84 included the Road March winner 'Don't Back Back' and 'Grenada', a comment on the USA's invasion; Venessa '85 included 'Soca Pressure', A Touch Of Class '86 included 'Invade South Africa'. He won the King of Kings contest '85, beating current and former calypso title winners, live performances included in three LPs on B's Records.

The Trinidad company Inprint published a booklet Sparrow, The Legend with lyrics of 100 of his calypsos; he was featured in TV film Kaiso '85 on UK Channel 4. His '87 LP was delayed by contractual problems; for the Carnival he promoted Sparrow's Party Classics on Charlie's, soca-ized versions of earlier hits, also produced and wrote two songs for Introducing Miss Natasha Wilson on M&M, the debut LP by an eleven-year-old former Junior Calypso Monarch '85: he tutored her to Monarch finals. LP One Love, One Heart '87 finally appeared on B's, including title track comment on '86 election, revival of calypso humour 'Lying Excuses'; performed that year at NYC's famed Apollo Theatre, toured Nigeria and became a board member of T&T's state owned Radio 610 AM. U of West Indies awarded him an honorary Doctor of Letters degree on 31 October 1987; he titled his '88 album on Charlie's Doctor Bird including 'Lying Excuses, Part Two'. After leading his own Original Young Brigade calypso tent for many years, he had to close during Carnival '88 because of poor crowd turnout (he performed in other tents thereafter). He appeared in an interview with Kitchener and Roaring Lion in BBC2's Arena presentation All On A Mardi Gras Day '88.

He headlined Soca On Broadway at NYC's Beacon Theatre '88; retained his crown in the second King of Kings competition '88 and said he would return to future contests for guest appearances only. and intended to use prize money to pay off the calypsonians he was unable to pay when the Young Brigade flopped. Appeared at Toronto's first annual Summer Soca Festival (July/August 1988); released Sparrow's Party Classics 2 '88 on Charlie's including soca-ized remake of his '65 double entendre hit 'Congo Man' (about an African cannibal 'eating' two white women), which entered T&T soca charts in August 1988 and remained popular through the '89 Carnival season; he won several encores nightly at Calypso Expo tent delivering the calypso dressed in a body suit and loin cloth with antics to match. 'Congo Man' was banned from radio airplay in '65; broadcast in '89, it was criticized for being degrading to all women and black men; Sparrow responded to the views of his principal critic, Dr Eugenia Springer (a psychiatrist and host of Radio Trinidad's Family Forum phone-in show), in picong (traditional art of heckling, teasing, cleverly make fun of) during a tent performance, reported in the press as Carnival bacchanal (quarrel, confusion) between two local doctors. LP All In The Game on Charlie's was made available for airplay mid-way through the '89 season, but was not released until after Carnival; it included 'Melo', a tribute to the late Lord Melody, which juxtaposed Melody's death in poverty with the millionaire status of Harry Belafonte, who employed Melody for many years.

Sparrow and Montserratan soca artist Arrow (who received an MBE in the Queen's '89 New Year Honours List) headlined a free concert at the '89 Notting Hill Carnival televised by BBC2's Ebony programme; perhaps wisely they omitted to show his rendition of 'Congo Man', which only the Notting Hill audience saw, however his performance of it at Port of Spain's Roxy Cinema (a free concert during '89 Carnival season) was included in the Antenne/MDI video release Calypso Season '89. He headlined the annual NYC Caribbean Promoters' Association Mothers' Day Concert for four years in Carnegie Hall, three in the main Madison Square Garden and 14 times at the Felt Forum -- a total of 21 Mothers' Days up to '89; appeared at the World Soca Dance Festival '89 at NYC's Palladium, promoted by NYC's leading Latin promoter, Dominican Republic born Ralph Mercado. During 1990 he issued Let The Music Play! on Spasm Express and Sparrow's Party Classics 3 on Charlie's, performed for Nelson Mandela at a packed Yankee Stadium. He joined the cast of Mas Camp tent during '91 season, unobtrusively marked his 35th anniversary with the uplifting title track of We Could Make It Easy If We Try '91 on BLS (released after Carnival); the album also included 'Abu Bakr', his comment on a Trinidad coup attempt in 1990.

He re-entered the Calypso Monarch contest '92: 'I think I have been very charitable over the last 17 years by staying out of competition and giving the young fellers a chance to grow and develop. But things are changing and there is more international coverage and I need to be part of that,' he said with typical bravado; inevitably he won with 'Both Of Them' (from Hot Like Fire '92 on BLS) and 'Survival' (on post-Carnival release Party Classics 4 'Survival' '92 on BLS). He performed in Spektakula tent during '93 season; expected to regain Monarch crown with 'The More The Merrier' (from Dancing Shoes '93 on Ice), a reply in picong to Ras Shorty I's moralistic 'Dat Eh Good Enough' of '92, and 'Try Again', but was beaten into second place by Mighty Chalkdust (Hollis Liverpool; his fifth Monarch win, previous occasions were '76, '77, '81, '89); 'Try Again' ('Best Nation Building Calypso' winner) appeared on Salvation With Soca Ballads '93 on BLS, also include remake of 'The Slave' and medley of soca-ized American ballads. He performed with the new Kisskidee Kaiso Karavan tent '94; sang controversial 'Ram Goat Advice' (on Doh Stop De Carnival '94 on BLS) parodying Lord Kitchener's refusal to accept the second highest government Chaconia Gold award (Sparrow was concurrently offered and accepted the award '93); he failed to be selected for Monarch semi-final on a technicality. He celebrated his 40th anniversary and 60th birthday with Carnival 'Jam Back' '95 on BLS incl. 'Democracy In Haiti (Libert‚)'. He issued the 12" single 'The Juice Is Loose' on BLS for '96 season; he opted not to perform at any tents '97, instead playing a couple of shows at Hotel Normandie during the season and releasing post-Carnival album Soca Lover on BLS.

He set a record of eight Calypso Monarch and eight Road March wins, second only to Kitchener in Road March wins; he is the only artist to win both Monarch and Road March in the same year three times. He raised calypso's status and did well out of it. Recommended collections: 16 Carnival Hits '92 compiles Kitchener's and his Road March winners '56-75, Mighty Sparrow Vols 1-4 '92-4 collects his classic calypsos '56-84, all in Ice's Caribbean Classic Series. In 2008 Carribean and Florida radio stations were playing Sparrow's 'Barack The Magnificent' several times a day.