The Calypso Monarch
Mighty Sparrow is one of the best-known calypso singers of all time. His contribution to the calypso genre, at times stagnating as mere tourist entertainment, was to return it to its origins as political and social commentary – his music gave a voice to the West Indian diaspora.
From his childhood experiences in the choir of the St Patrick’s Boys School in Gran Roi, Grenada, he began to take in jazz and Jamaican calypso songs of the time before emerging in 1958 with his first hit, ‘Jean and Dinah’ which referred to the recent withdrawal of American forces from Trinidad and commented slyly upon the subsequent situation of local prostitutes. In performance terms, singers of the time were relatively static, but not so the young Francisco. Critiqued by his peers for ‘moving around like a sparrow’, the nickname stuck and he adopted it as his stage persona.
Following his success in the West Indies, he found success in the UK, due to the emergence of such expatriate singers as Lord Kitchener, the ‘grandmaster’ of calypso. Inspired by Harry Belafonte, whose 1956 album ‘Calypso’ was first album to sell over one million copies, Sparrow tried his hand in the USA. However, the new-found American interest in calypso failed to embrace the Mighty Sparrow and he returned to the West Indies.
When ‘soca’ (a contraction of ‘soulful calypso’) began to emerge as a popular musical form in the 70s and 80s, Mighty Sparrow began to incorporate the genre in his performances. As well as the expected ribald lyrics and salacious themes of calypso, Sparrow’s trademark is his incorporation of social and political issues. In his earliest releases, he addressed taxation and supported a ‘PAYE’ taxation scheme – uniquely for a music artist. Sparrow also encouraged Trinidadian independence in song. He celebrated the legendary cricketer Garfield Sobers with a lyric imagining the knighting of Sobers 10 years before it occurred in reality.
He currently lives in New York and still addresses issues of the day in his lyrics, touching upon aspects of capitalism, tolerance and human rights as well as his more traditional subject matter of women with large breasts and the conduct of sexual activity. He also includes the now-President of the USA Barack Obama as a recipient of his unstinting praise. His recent (2008) song ‘Barack De Magnificent’ includes the lines ‘the respect of the world, which we now lack, if you want it back, then vote Barack’.
His popularity endures to the present day - Sparrow has won Trinidad´s Carnival Road March competition eight times and has been named Calypso Monarch eleven times. The power of The Mighty Sparrow doubtless contributed to the historic outcome of the recent US elections. Never underestimate a calypso singer.
Born Slinger Francisco 1935, in Grenada, West Indies
Sparrow Hits on Karaoke
First Flight: Early Calypsos from the Emory Cook Collection
Mighty Sparrow Dance Party Gold 2000
Calypso Awakening from the Emory Cook Collection
16 Carnival Hits
With Lord Kitchener. Ice Records
Hot and Sweet
Produced by Van Dyke Parks. Warner Bros
Sparrow in Hi-Fi
King Sparrow´s Calypso Carnival
Calypso Kings and Pink Gin
This artist took part in the following project(s) organized/funded by the culturebase.net partner institutions.
(09 July 09 - 25 July 09)