Black Stalin

Milestone: Black Stalin (Leroy Calliste).

Five-time Calypso Monarch Black Stalin (Leroy Calliste) will celebrate his 80th birthday on Friday, Republic Day. His wife Patsy Calliste and godson, extempo champion Brian London, are feverishly organising a virtual concert in honour of the San Fernando bard.

The concert will feature a mix of Stalin’s classics, including the upbeat “Wait Dorothy” and powerful social and political commentary “Bun Dem”, sung by about 35 guest artistes including calypsonians Karene Eccles and Eunice Peters. They will be joined by 2001 Calypso Monarch Denyse Plummer and entertainer Carol Addison.

Entertainers will also render songs Stalin drew inspiration from during his prolonged illness and enthral audiences with their delightful compositions. Tobago-born singer Easlyn Orr will be singing the gospel “Hold On To Jesus”.

The line-up includes 2020 reigning Calypso Monarch Terri Lyons, her father SuperBlue, saxophonist Francis Prime, Johnny King, Damion Melvile and Freetown Collective. Showtime is 3 p.m. and ends about 7.30 pm. Stalin’s concert will be livestreamed on Gayelle Television.

Regaining mobility

On September 22, 2014, Black Stalin was struck down by an ischaemic stroke which affected both his speech and movement on the right side of his body. On his return home a few hours after performing at a charity event in South Trinidad–an inclusive fundraiser hosted by the St Andrew Anglican Church in aid of its building fund– relatives had to rush Stalin to the San Fernando General Hospital after he started experiencing severe pain to his back.

To date, Stalin’s memory and mental faculties remain intact. He speaks fairly well and has regained limited mobility. Fortunately, Stalin remembers all his songs, including “Caribbean Man,” and can even hum them. He no longer performs and will not be performing at the concert. But he enjoys music, discussing current events and sports.

He appreciates the occasional visits from his fraternity like iconic calypsonian David Rudder, New York-based soca artiste Ajala (Keith Sutherland), and the late De Fosto (Winston Scarborough).

On Independence Day, August 31, Arima Member of Parliament Pennelope Beckles and family friend Constance Coker visited him. They had a fantastic time reminiscing, singing and taking photographs. Later on his grandson Kevan Calliste and London burst into extempo. During her visit, Beckles thanked Stalin for the wonderful music and admired his massive collection of accolades, trophies, portraits and citations.

Excited over hitting 80

In a telephone interview on Friday, Patsy Calliste said: “He’s great. Excited about turning 80. Officially an octogenarian. Excited about the concert. He gets into a frenzy when he hears the ad on (Kenny Phillip’s) WACK 90.1 FM radio. Every minute the advertisement is playing, he will hint to me. He enjoys the score. He knows we are planning it. Stalin’s given us his blessing.”

She added: “Can’t believe the overwhelming response. We’re inundated. Enthusiasm abounds. People are calling and saying they want to get in on the show. I had to push it back to 2 pm.”

Asked to give an update yesterday, London added: “It’s coming along pretty well. Rehearsals took place Saturday. Artistes are gearing up to perform; a testament to their love and admiration for Stalin. Stalin’s a goliath in the calypso arena. Malick Folk Performers featuring Christopher Sheppard, Nydia Byron and Corey Herbert will be there. His grandchildren and Southern Marines will be playing pan. It will be professionally done. Stalin took his music seriously, and we have to produce a quality concert.”

On the Republic Day significance, London added: “Despite his illness, he remains positive and in high spirits. He uplifted Trinidad and Tobago through his music over the decades. He had patriotic songs like ‘We Can Make It If We Try,’ and ‘Better Days Are Coming’. He fought against injustice and oppression through his music. He shared his knowledge and insight into Caribbean history. We wanted us to do our best and uplift the country.”

London won’t be singing, but he reminisced about paying tribute to Stalin when he sang “Who Vex Loss” at the 2015 Dimanche Gras competition. He placed fourth, and Roderick Gordon (Chucky) emerged as the champion.

London said: “The Savannah fell silent. People were stunned. But they were happy to see Stalin. Glad they got a chance to see him. They appreciated the gesture.”

Awards and accolades

On October 31, 2008 the five-time Calypso Monarch was conferred with an honorary doctorate—Doctor of Letters (DLitt)—from The University of the West Indies, St Augustine, for his tremendous dedication and contribution to calypso music and culture in Trinidad and Tobago. In 1987 he was also awarded the Hummingbird Medal Silver in recognition of his cultural legacy.

Stalin won the Calypso Monarch competition for the first time in 1979 (with “Caribbean Man” and “Play One”) and copped the title again in 1985, 1987, 1991 and 1995.

In 1979, he moved over to the Mighty Shadow’s Kingdom of the Wizards tent and recorded his first album, To the Caribbean Man. In 1995, he dabbled in chutney, with a “Tribute to Sundar Popo”, in honour of his late dear friend and fellow singer. In 1994 he signed with Eddy Grant’s Ice Records label, releasing the Rebellion album that year and “Message to Sundar” in 1995.

After finishing as runner-up to Mighty Sparrow in 1985, in 1999 Black Stalin won the title of Calypso King of the World with the calypsoes “Black Man Feeling to Party” and “Wine Boy,” poking fun at the late politician Dhanraj Singh, former local government minister in the Basdeo Panday administration.

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