FORMER radio and television announcer David Elcock has called for a national award to be conferred posthumously on singer Hazel Rambaransingh for the contribution she made to the culture of TT.
She was regarded as somewhat of an icon who, with her wealth of talent, explored all genres of music and collaborated with many other well known artistes including Clive Zanda and the late Daisy Voisin, Richard "Nappy" Mayers and Raf Robertson.
Rambaransingh, 68, died of cancer on September 4 and was cremated after an hour-long service at J E Guide Funeral Home and Crematorium last Thursday morning.
Only ten people, including lay minister Cecil Colthrust, attended the funeral, which was streamed live to relatives abroad, including her music producer and video director brother Neil Lee Luck, who lives in Sweden, but was in India when she died.
Lee Luck created a video to reflect Rambaransingh's life and times with family and friends while her songs played in the background. Colthrust said she is now singing to her creator.
Speaking with Newsday from his home in New York on Wednesday evening, Elcock, who would have first played Rambaransingh's records on his show Dave Elcock in the Morning, said: “Trinidad and Tobago has lost a gem of an entertainer and a gem of a human being.
“I am hoping some of you good folks down there (TT) and some of us up here (US) would approach government to give her a national award posthumously, because she did our nation proud.”
The presentation of national awards, which was shifted from Independence Day to Republic Day, has been postponed this year owing to the covid19 pandemic.
Elcock said he knew the San Fernando-born singer since she launched her career as a recording artiste. Because of the popularity of his show, budding artistes used to take their music to him.
“This is how I got to know Hazel, David Rudder, Sparrow, Kitchener, Shadow, Scrunter, and so many others, because their records were brought to the library to be played. I also brought a lot of artistes on stage as an MC.”
Expressing sadness at her death and condolences to her surviving relatives, Elcock said he remembered her as “a gentle soul. I never saw her upset. With all that talent and beautiful voice, acclaimed by so many people, she never lost her humility, thinking she was better than anyone else.
“I always admired her quietly and I interviewed her a few times on radio. I always had a good time talking to her.”
San Fernando mayor Junia Regrello said Rambaransingh, who became popular for her Christmas and parang music, also dabbled in folk, gospel, traditional songs and a wide range of pop music.
Among her more memorable songs were Christmas Magic, The Cherry Tree Carol, The Day That Love Began, Parang Medley, Don’t Let Me be Lonely Tonight, Just Give Me Love, I Wanna Give You Everything.
“She was a professional singer and would have done gigs all over the world. We would have lost somebody who contributed so much and would have been an inspiration to a lot of younger singers who wanted to make it.
“On behalf of the city I want to extend condolences to her family. May she find eternal rest,” Regrello said.
Author/journalist/editor/promoter, one-time adviser to the minister of culture, and mas band leader locally and abroad Dawad Phillip remembered her as a young woman who was discovered at a place called Lads and Lasses in Montano Plaza, San Fernando, while she was still at school.
He said the venue was a spawning ground for many young, talented southerners, including himself.
“Hazel and another girl named Diane (I can’t recall her last name) started together with me at this place owned by the Montanos. They were still in school. That was around 1966.
“The Montanos had this idea to give young people an opportunity, so we had a basement party every Saturday morning from 9 am to 12 noon. I was put in charge of co-ordinating the programme and all the artistes gravitated around me, and it was plenty. These Saturday mornings produced talent like that.”
He said many bands and combo sides were formed from that basement outlet, but many of the talent did not make it to a life of show business.
“Hazel and Diane started as a duet, where they had a wonderful chemistry. By the time Hazel blossomed into a singer I had gone abroad.”
Phillip, who opened an entertainment spot called One Ten on Cipero Street, San Fernando, several years ago, recalled the Lee Luck and Dindayal families chose to have their reunion at his place. A video recorded on that occasion, with Rambaransingh singing Tom Jans' Loving Arms and accompanied by her cousin Keith Dindayal on guitar, has become a treasured keepsake for the family. It was one of the songs they recorded with the Young Ones combo from Mon Repos.
Rambaransingh was the eldest of the six children of her parents, Andrew and Lucille Lee Luck. She attended St Joseph’s Convent, San Fernando and worked as a banker afterwards. However, her passion for singing and cooking took her into a different realm where she pursued a life on the stage and another in the kitchen at many well-known hotels.
Neil, whom she referred to as her baby brother, described her as loving, diligent, caring, compassionate and warm.
"Her work ethic was second to none. Planning was one of her big things. She was quick and efficient with whatever she was doing.
"She was always positive and her faith in God and the Holy Bible was her guide. Hazel was very generous to those in need and she would often feed the hungry and homeless in San Fernando and in Scarborough, where she had settled."
Neil told Newsday,Rambaransingh loved to entertain and was a first-class cook.
"Luckily, a few weeks before her sad and untimely passing, she shared with me the secret to some of my favourite recipes of hers. When my sons Kiefer, Kahlil and Rakim visited from my new home, Sweden, they quite enjoyed her cuisine and had to take seconds – Trini sweet hand at work."
He said he also worked with his sister in the recording studio in Trinidad and London, and went on tour with her to the UK. While there they also did backing vocals for the all-girl group Miss America.
"My favourite memory came about two weeks prior to her transition. In a phone conversation with her, she said, "Baby brother, I’m so proud of you. I love you so very much…from the day you were born till eternity. Always remember that.'”
Her brother Ray Lee Luck, who eulogised her at the funeral, said although her life appeared to be full of excitement, she suffered several tragedies – losing her only daughter Kelly-Ann three years ago and her close friends Richard and Grace Wheeler, who also met a tragic end in Tobago.
Ray, who performed alongside his sister many times, said she never fully recovered from those losses and her health started deteriorating ever since – from a heart attack and other complications to cancer a few months ago.
He remembered her as a compassionate person who put others before self, all in the name of justice.
Ray said in her latter days she found solace in the church and never missed a mass until she was no longer able to attend.
Her sister, Sandra Lee Luck-Dopson, said Rambaransingh was her best friend. When their mother died she assumed the role and was the go-to person from whom her siblings sought advice.