UNDOUBTEDLY, Kenny J, whose real name was Kenwrick Joseph, had one of the sweetest voices on the local musical landscape, not only in calypso, soca, but soca parang, soca chutney and ballads.
He was as comfortable on a calypso stage as he was at a love concert – a crooner – causing the ladies to swoon at the many Valentine's Day concerts where he performed.
That voice which brought so much joy to so many over almost four decades was silenced last Sunday, as he took his final breath around 11.25 am at the Augustus Long Hospital, Pointe-a-Pierre.
He left behind four children and ten grandchildren. His wife died before him.
Good friend and fellow performer Edwin “Crazy” Ayoung, who collaborated on an extempo parang release last year with Lady Gypsy and Kenny J, said while covid19 may have claimed his life, he will live on forever in his music. Kenny J’s death followed that of another cultural icon, the Mighty Bomber – Clifton Ryan – the day before, on New Year’s Day.
Saddened by the passing of two music stalwarts in two days, Crazy said Kenny J was a true friend, one he will surely miss. He recalled his kinship with Bomber, 93, a calypso great, with whom he performed at Kitchener’s Revue, and the Original Young Brigade Tent, led by another calypso icon, Sparrow.
Minister of Tourism, Culture and the Arts Randall Mitchell said the deaths of the entertainers had left a void in the creative sector.
He recalled Bomber as a composer extraordinaire, a living legend and cultural icon who influenced many younger calypsonians through his mentorship, willingness to compose for others and to teach the calypso art form.
He said Bomber, who started his career at age 12, in 1940, won his first competition in 1957, when he entered Radio Trinidad’s calypso competition and there was no turning back.
“He also won the Calypso (King) competition in 1964, represented Trinidad and Tobago in the Commonwealth Festival of the Arts in England in 1965 and in 2003, at the age of 75, he made the Calypso Monarch finals.”
On the death of Kenny J, Mitchell said, “His sweet voice, witty parang soca renditions and his ability to captivate any audience made Kenny J a performer par excellence and a cultural icon. He will be especially missed at Christmas time when he brought his signature flavour to the season, making the Christmas festival one that was unmistakably TT.”
Kenny J, who would have celebrated his 70th birthday in July, was a former police officer who retired at the rank of assistant superintendent.
Strangely, it was the service which launched his singing career, when he won the 1987 Police Calypso Monarch contest, giving him the impetus to transition from amateur to professional.
He graced the Queen's Park Savannah's "big yard," Port of Spain, four times in his career, but the Calypso Monarchy eluded him. He came closest to the elusive title in 1990, when he placed second with Addicted to Sweet Soca and Leave She Alone.
While his calypsoes have entertained, it is his legendary, well-crafted, risqué parang soca contributions which have stood the test of time. The classic double-entendre Paintbrush, Alexander, Hush Yuh Mouth, Rum Cork, Stay Inside, have all become synonymous with the Christmas season.
President of the Police Social and Welfare Association Insp Gideon Dickson, in extending condolences to Kenny J's family and friends, said the fraternity was saddened by the passing of its former colleague.
Born in San Fernando, Kenny J, who made Coora Road, Siparia, his home, recently joined the Ministry of Health’s fight against covid19. He was featured in an advertisement in which he urged the unvaccinated not to hesitate but to get vaccinated. He was fully vaccinated, his daughter Jeselle Joseph confirmed.
Tributes continue to pour in for the bards. The National Carnival Commission (NCC) saluted the two titans for their commitment, service and love of culture and community.
The NCC said the musical icons paved the way for the future, not only through their contributions to their fields, but also in serving as mentors for a generation that must now bear the torch for others.
Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi took to Facebook to ask the nation to join with him in sending condolences over the parang icon's death.
So did Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar, who described him as a true cultural icon.
Chairman of the South/Central Region of TUCO Ras Kommanda said Kenny J’s death caught him by surprise.
“I thought you would have overcome it, but Jah know brethren. It is as though the heavens just welcoming her great ones home.”
On behalf of the calypso organisation, Kommanda thanked Kenny J “for the music and the vibes we enjoyed over the many years. You have done your part in this journey called life, your creator is welcoming you back home, dust we came from, so dust we shall return. Rest in eternal peace.”
Pan Trinbago also joined with the rest of the country in mourning Kenny J and thanking him for his significant contribution to the culture.
One of his last live performances was at the Naparima Bowl, San Fernando, with Rome, who is still in disbelief.
“We lost a legend.”
Rome recalled growing up listening to and admiring Kenny J's ability to craft his music. He said he was a mentor and friend.
“He always had a stale joke to give me, always laughing, always joking around. I took a lot of notes from him and he was always there to give me advice.
Kenny J's alma mater, St Benedict’s College which recently featured him in its last yearbook magazine, said he was a true Benedictine.
San Fernando mayor Junia Regrello said his Sunday was disrupted by the sad news that one of the voices which makes Trini Christmas special was longer with us.
Regrello said he had the pleasure of seeing him perform at the Naparima Bowl, which may have been his last performance.
He said Kenny, whom he had known for most of his adult life, had the crowd dancing in their seats and singing along to his popular songs.
“Kenny started singing ballads before becoming a calypsonian, where he sang at the tents and then progressed to the genre of parang soca with his cleverly-crafted, double-entendre compositions, making him 'a must' on the Christmas circuit both here and abroad.
“His silky voice, smooth stage performance and gentlemanly demeanour made him a standout performer and one the represented the southland with pride. He will be missed but his music will live on.
“On behalf of the people of the City of San Fernando, I extend my sincerest condolences to his family and loved ones in their time of bereavement. May he rest in eternal peace.”
Funeral arrangements are yet to be confirmed.