Newspaper: Newsday Section C
Date: July 13, 2004
Page#: Pages 1-2
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The King goes to Queen's Hall

A Mini Bio of the Mighty Sparrow


Slinger Francisco, known the world over as the Mighty Sparrow, entered into this life on July 9th, 1935, in Grandroy Bay, Grenada, West Indies. His father was a carpenter who relocated to Trinidad to earn a better living. At the age of eighteen months, Slinger and the rest of his family joined their father there. His mother fondly remembers doing her housework to the accompaniment of Slinger singing calypsos in the house with a comb and a piece of silver paper. When Slinger attended Newton Boys Catholic School, calypso had assumed links with the devil and was not considered healthy entertainment for young minds, so they were discouraged from singing them. But Sparrow loved to sing in the weekly Friday school concerts, and owing to this bias against calypsos, he restricted himself to the ballad "Red River Valley." To his former teacher, Jadunath, it was obvious that Sparrow was a "natural." Jadunath describes the young Sparrow as a well-behaved and respectful student, noting that even though Sparrow did not complete his education, he kept on reading and studying on his own throughout his life, as his intelligent lyrics and analysts of society have time and time again proven.

Sparrow's mother found him a job at the Control Board for $50 a month, but the singing bird decided that he preferred calypso as a means to earn a living. Holly Betaudier, who produced calypso shows at the Lotus, was impressed by the young and determined Sparrow and hired him to perform there for a minimal fee. In 1956, when Sparrow asked him for leave so that he might try his fortune at the Savannah during Carnival, the disgruntled Holly told him not to bother coming back to look for work. Little did he or any one else know what an impact Sparrow was going to make that night. He was mistakenly introduced on stage as Lord Melody, and always the joker, Sparrow proceeded to sing Melody's tunes. When the audience asked him for his own original tunes, he sang "Jean and Dinah," the song that would herald the Sparrow era. Its lyrical potency and infectious melody, combined with the natural talent and charm of Sparrow won this artist his first awards; a whooping double for a first time contender - both Calypso King and the Road March crown. However, this was not the first Sparrow song sung on stage. In 1955, he sang his first social commentary, "High Cost of Living," and the double entendre "Race Track." Both were forms that would become synonymous with his name.

Spurred on by his victories, Sparrow went on what would end up being a grueling tour of Guyana, owing to its extensive land and year-round enjoyment of calypso. This "marathon-style" touring taught Sparrow the spirit of perseverance, endurance and sheer hard work, traveling often times by boat, truck and donkey cart. This trial experience surely contributed to his self-discipline, staying with him through the years and explaining his unbelievable stamina and accomplishments to date.

When Sparrow first began singing, he and his band lacked adequate equipment, calling themselves The Mough Band, they imitated steelband sounds, the tenors, cellos, bass, iron. Sparrow contends that his ability to make his voice do anything out of necessity explains some of his appeal. (Whoever has not seen Sparrow smack his lips together and emit that suggestive sound has surely missed a treat-well, to be quite honest, if you haven't seem him perform, you have definitely missed one of the most entertaining, rib-cracking and captivating artists alive. That is an unbiased opinion.)

Sparrow caters to both the intellectuals and the dancers in his songs, and considers himself a "mouthpiece of the underprivileged," discussing issues that affect the population of the world at large. Now a father of nine and grandfather of two, with at least 58 recorded albums under his belt and enough awards to sink a ship, Sparrow remains a charismatic, thoughtful and jocular personality.

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