Trinidad

Calypso singer Mighty Sparrow back on stage

 
 
The Mighty Sparrow, left, poses with friend Alantonio Williams.
The Mighty Sparrow, left, poses with friend Alantonio Williams.
Courtesy Alantonio Williams

Special to the Miami Herald

Slinger Francisco, better known as Mighty Sparrow, gave the Caribbean a scare late last year when he slipped into a diabetic coma. He remained in a hospital in the United States for three weeks amid rumors that he had died. One journalist even tweeted that he had passed away.

But Sparrow, the world’s most decorated calypso singer, has recovered and returned to Trinidad. He quickly resumed performing in the calypso tents during this Carnival season, which climaxes Tuesday.

“I cannot play in the band as I would like to, but I am doing the best I can,” Sparrow, a South Florida resident, said in a rare interview with the Miami Herald.

He keeps a stool nearby should he feel the need to sit, but he manages to stand during most of his performances. He said that he’s careful “not to push myself that much.”

Known as “Calypso King of the World,” Sparrow is famous for such hits as Jean and Dinah, Ten to One Is Murder and Sparrow Come Back Home. Some even quip that his songs have been known to strike fear in regional governments.

Upon his return to Trinidad from the hospital, he received a hero’s welcome. The government of Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar announced plans to pay his medical bills and recommended that he be awarded the Order of Trinidad and Tobago, the country’s highest award.

“Because Sparrow was in Trinidad alive and well after the terrible time he had last year, we wanted to confer the award upon him,” said Dennis McComie, director of Public Information and Communications in the prime minister’s office.

The decision, McComie said, was made “in consideration of the vast contribution that the Mighty Sparrow has made to calypso and music in general.”

McComie said the government wanted to keep its help quiet to avoid embarrassing the singer, but the decision became public because taxpayers’ funds were involved. He declined to disclose the amount of the medical bills.

Sparrow, 78, said the award is the highest he has received so far. Previous Trinidad governments awarded him the Chaconia Gold medal in 1993, and the Humming Bird Silver medal in 1969.

“I feel very honored, very pleased,” he said. “This [award] has made me very relaxed and happy.”

Over the years, Sparrow has received dozens of awards and citations, including the Order of the Caribbean Community and an honorary doctorate from the University of the West Indies. Several cities in North America have declared “Mighty Sparrow Day,” including Winnipeg, Manhattan, Boston and Greer, S.C.

Lutalo Masimba, president of the Trinbagonian Unified Calypsonians Organization (TUCO), said his organization has long felt that Sparrow should be given the country’s highest award.

“TUCO feels satisfied that the government of the day has finally arrived at a place where they could take a decision that is so important to the culture and social life of our nation,” Masimba said.

Masimba said that what now remains to be done is the creation of a museum dedicated to Sparrow’s life and works. Masimba said he is trying to get the government “to convert a part of Sparrow’s residence into a national museum where all the singer’s awards and trophies would be on display to schoolchildren and the public.”

He visualizes an interactive museum where people could download Sparrow’s music, and he could talk about his work and his life, do interviews and photo shoots.

That way, “he would not be dependent on the state for an income. He would feel good that he is relevant still and very much active,” Masimba said.

One of Sparrow’s fans, Patterson Beckles, 51, said “Sparrow set a standard that young and upcoming artists can emulate. It is a standard that should not fall.”

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