HE has been dubbed the quintessential Caribbean calypsonian, a musical genius, the people’s calypsonian, and on this day when the country commemorates 44 years since relinquishing allegiance to the British monarchy and became a republic, Leroy Calliste, better known as the Black Stalin will celebrate his 79th birthday.
The number 79 is of particular significance for Stalin who won his first of five Calypso Monarch crowns in 1979 with his identifying trademark, Caribbean Man and Play One.
Two concerts are being held in his honour today. One of them is a collaboration between Digicel and TTT, and the second the Up Close and Personal concert series at WACK 90.1 FM radio.
Dozens of artistes have given their time to do live performances of one of his songs, in tribute to this lovable "Black Man" at Wack Radio. Among them are Joshua and Kaleb Hinds, Victoria Cooper-Rahim, Luta, reigning Calypso Monarch Terri Lyons, Duane O’Connor, Ras Kommanda, Brother Valentino, College Boy Jesse, Rondell Donowa, Brian London, Tony Prescott, Atiba Williams, as well as Stalin’s grandson, Kevan Calliste.
September 22 marked six years since Stalin, who was conferred with an honorary doctorate by the University of the West Indies (UWI) in 2008, was struck down by a stroke after performing at a charity show in South Trinidad. Since then he has not performed on stage nor has he made any public appearances.
Kevan said his beloved granddad is doing well.
“He is doing great. He is still doing speech and physiotherapy. He is not composing or singing, but he is coming to come. We hope that sometime soon he will be able to grace the stage again.”
It is a wish verbalised by many of his colleagues in the fraternity, including Ras Kommanda (Steve Pascall), chairman of the south-central region of the Trinbago Unified Calypsonian's Organisation (TUCO), who has been praying for a miracle. Kommanda has been a regular visitor to Stalin’s San Fernando home.
“I want to wish him earth strong, best of health and strength. I Hope Jah will give him all the blessings to see another earth strong,” Kommanda said. “He is one of our most loved artistes around and one of the things I wish for is that his loving fans will get an opportunity to see him at some function, somewhere, very soon, even though we recognise at this age and stage that may be a bit difficult.”
Kommanda also urged young Kevan, who has been earning many titles as both a calypsonian and extempo artiste, to continue in Stalin’s legacy.
Another colleague and former calypso monarch Dr Hollis ”Chalkdust” Liverpool said he was not ruling out a miracle in Stalin’s recovery.
“You never know what God has in store for you,” said Chalkie who began his musical career at the same time with Stalin back in the 1960s. He called on the nation to pray for Stalin’s recovery.
“I am praying for him, and I call on the people of this country to also pray for him. We miss him a lot on the stage. Even if he can’t perform at this time, I wish he can attend some shows and pass on his genius to some of the younger calypsonians. That is badly needed.”
Chalkie described Stalin as, “one of the most polished, all-round calypsonians to have graced the TT and regional landscape. He is the perfect calypsonian, one of the guys who sings not only road march songs, but meaningful classical songs and commentary. He would go down in history as one of the guys who can sing in every dimension in calypso.”
He lauded his unique styling, as a master of the stage in terms of communication, noting how he catered to fans on both sides of the Savannah stage.
Emotions welled up when Lutalo "Brother Resistance" Masimba) was asked to reflect on Stalin and to wish him a happy birthday.
“My heart is full when I think of Stalin. He is a point of reference for me in my musical journey, so my spirit is always there with him. I want to wish him a blessed earth strong and I continue to pray for his wellness. I look forward to more music from him.”
Musical whiz Roy Cape who is also battling health challenges has had a long relationship with Stalin which spans five decades.
He said although he has not been able to visit him because of the covid 19 virus, he is in touch with his family.
“What we share, time and space cannot come between us,” Cape said in a telephone interview on Tuesday evening as he wished him a happy birthday.
“This is a big one for him. It’s his 79, a big year as well for his Caribbean Man album. I am going to do a virtual with him. I am still being treated for prostate cancer and I fell in (Sangre) Grande last October and fractured my left hip bone, but Leroy has been (affected) since 2014 and up until now he is still sick. I am in touch with his family.
“He is a beautiful brother. He is a good man. He has a good heart. Anyone he can help, he will help. He is a very disciplined person to principles, so if you on “ism schism”, (also one of Stalin’s gems), you would not survive around him. He is a very straightforward person."
Like his other colleagues, Cape said, "Stalin needs our prayers. Say a prayer for him. We cannot question why these things happen,” he said in reference to the stroke he suffered.
“It is the work of God.”
San Fernando mayor Junia Regrello who has toured extensively with Stalin when he was leader of Skiffle steelband said it was always a pleasure to work with him.
“Dr Leroy Calliste is the quintessential calypsonian, representing a brand that is almost extinct. This speaks to the fact that he is a singer and composer. His journey started in the 1960s and over the years his music has not lost its appeal or magic. It remains relevant and one I am sure will be enjoyed by generations to come.
“As a band leader, I have had the opportunity to work with him and tour with him with Skiffle. He was always extremely supportive and his warmth and devotion for both art forms (pan and calypso) goes beyond any measure.”
Stalin also performed at most of Skiffle’s concerts as a main attraction.
“On behalf of the City of San Fernando I want to extend birthday greetings to this distinguished son of the soil and may he continue to enjoy God’s choicest blessings.”