Chalkdust's Eulogy for the Mighty Duke
Edwin 'Crazy' Ayong places a rose next to Mighty Duke's body
Eulogy delivered by Chalkdust (Hollis Liverpool)
Event Date: January 22, 2009
Posted: January 25, 2009
"What is calypso?
Ms. Rebecca John-Pope, wife of the deceased; sons Wendell, Kurt and Ossasie and daughter Makeda Nefertiti, other members of the Pope family; Hon. Minister of Culture; Mayor and distinguished personnel of the City of Point Fortin; Rev. Knolly Clarke; distinguished guests; fellow calypsonians, ladies and gentlemen!
I'm sure you really don't know.
I wonder if you know
The true meaning of calypso.
Because the words that we rhyme and sing
Is only half the thing.
I can tell you that
Calypso is more than a work of art.
It is a feeling which comes from deep within;
A tale of joy or one of suffering;
It's an editorial in song of the life that we undergo.
That and only that, I know, is true calypso."
–Kelvin 'Mighty Duke' Pope, 1968
I have begun with that calypso of the Mighty Duke for I want you to ponder on the lyrics as I speak, especially the lines:
"The words that we rhyme and sing, is only half the thing. I could tell you that calypso is more than a work of art. It is a feeling which comes from deep within; a tale of joy or one of suffering. It's an editorial in song of the life that we undergo; that and only that is true calypso."
Chalkdust (Hollis Liverpool), deliveres the eulogy
In that casket before me lies the body of a noble soul who lived, ate and slept calypso daily and who within the seventy six years he spent on this earth contributed immensely to the world of calypso and calypso music. Born in this hallowed area of New Lance Pt. Fortin out of the marriage of Ernest and deceased Hilda Pope who hailed from St. Vincent, Kelvin Pope was greatly influenced by the calypso music which he heard from his mother's gramophone and from the calypsonians like Spoiler and Growler who visited the area and those like Syncopater and Ambassador who lived nearby.
This early musical awakening, coupled with the labor struggles of oilworkers of the Butler era led him to the calypso tents of Pt. Fortin, Fyzabad and San Fernando where he won the South Crown in 1959 and 1960 and placed second to Black Stalin in 1962 and Lord Shorty in 1963. Success in the tents motivated him to leave his cushion-soft job at Shell Trinidad and venture to the North to join Sparrow's Original Young Brigade to begin a journey that covered all the calypso tents of North Trinidad, all the calypso competitions available and all the calypso sites in the Caribbean, the United States and Europe.
That journey brought him several accolades and left us, calypso lovers, with beautiful and fond memories. His name became a household word in Antigua and St. Thomas where he won the Calypso King of the World titles in 1968 and 1969 and where in 1971, he and the late Kitchener were called upon to sing four calypsoes in the contest, since, after they had sung two calypsoes each, the judges yet could not separate them for the first prize. Imagine having to sing four calypsoes for a contest! It is no wonder that Duke died still upset with his Trinidadian colleagues who have chosen to sing one calypso for the National Monarch title. After that contest in St. Thomas in 1971 when Kitch was crowned king, Duke told me: "Ah coulda beat Kitch you know, but Ah only give him dat, because he never win nothing in hi life." This gives you an idea of Kelvin's humble and generous attributes. His calypso journey allowed him to be the first to win the National Calypso Monarch title for three consecutive years from 1968 to 1970 and four times consecutively from 1968 to 1971.
In the calypso entitled "What is calypso" with which I began this eulogy, Duke knew that winning accolades from well-composed calypsoes was only, as he said, "half the thing." He knew too, that calypso was "an editorial in song of the life that we undergo." Hence, he took the art form seriously, reminding us, along the way in calypsoes such as "Uhuru" (1977) and "Teach the Children," of our ties with the motherland of Africa (No calypsonian living nor dead has composed as many songs on Africa as Duke did). In singing about Africa, he sought to bring the African diaspora closer together, to make Africans see themselves beyond the gates of the slave trade and to build for them that bridge whereby all of us of African descent can walk upon to reach the rendezvous of victory over colonialism, apartheid and Euro-centrism. In his calypso journey Duke kept reminding us in calypsoes such as "One Foot Visina" (1969) and "Melvie and Yvonne" (1971) of the way some of our less-privileged women behave, and in road marches like "Thunder" and "Pan in yuh rookungutungkung" we are reminded of the beauty of our steelband, the need for us to enjoy ourselves at carnival and the beauty of our expressions. (Try putting in your computer the word "Rookungutungkung" and see if any dictionary or computer could understand it. Try also the line of one woman telling another "Ah never thief peas in the market yet." Only Duke, as a sociologist in his own right, could communicate to us in that special manner of ours, "the feelings that come from deep within.") Thus it would be fair to state that while most singers in their journeys have concentrated on five areas of the calypso Duke initiated a sixth, that of "Woman Bacchanal."
As Duke traveled across the calypso pathways, he planted seeds that he knew would later spring up into trees upon which generations to come would climb and be nourished with tasty fruit. Seeds such as "Freakin, Streaking" and "Black Skin, White Man," are mirrors of measured lines, apt melodies and, above all, properly-pronounced lyrics that underscore our search for identity. And he not only composed for himself, so that he helped the seeds of others to flourish. Not many may know, and I am sure he would love me to say it, that he composed many songs for Lord Nelson such as "Mi Lover" and "King Liar" many for calypsonian Natasha and some including one called "The Budget" for Lord Shorty. In addition, being the man he was–he hated to hear a poorly composed calypso–he in his journey replanted the seeds of hundreds of calypsoes for calypsonians too numerous to mention.
In planting the seeds too, he was conscious of those who might have sought to destroy them with thorns, as Christ warned us in the gospels. As such, he planted, for posterity, trees that would remind us of our historical climb, in his songs on Dr. Williams, the march to Chaguaramus in 1960, the funeral of the Black power advocate Basil Douglas, the vagrants of our cities, the greed of capitalists, the equivalence of our local composers with Beethoven, and the political development of our state.
For planting so many seeds in the vineyard of calypso, Kelvin Pope, master-craftsman that he was, underscored the opinion of Paul Goodman who told us: "All men are creative, but few are artists." For his art then, he was given the Humming Bird Medal in 1970 for calypso by the Government of Trinidad and Tobago and numerous awards from calypso lovers in Europe, the wider Caribbean and the United States, including being instituted into the Sunshine Awards Hall of Fame in 2006 and winner of Sunshine Awards Best Social Commentary for his composition "How Many More Must Die" in 1989.
But all the accolades won and all the songs masterly composed and all the beautiful music that accompanied him on stage amount to just "half the thing." The other half that Duke was referring to when he sang "What is Calypso," consists of the inner man in Duke that the public may not have noticed. Let me now turn to the other half of the thing. First, in Duke's respectful view, if the singer must understand that the calypso "comes from deep within (and is) a tale of joy or one of suffering," then he or she must first understand the African legacy and be a marked characteristic of that legacy, including the fact that a calypsonian was an African griot. Thus, in walking through the calypso vineyard, you had to wear "your colour with dignity," as Duke sang in the calypso "Black is Beautiful." The calypsonian, then, in Duke's respectful view, had to be more than a mere singer. He or she had to be a singer who walked with a regal and professional air as Duke did. Hence, Duke not only traversed the calypso world like a king, but the two calypso tents which he founded, he named them "Regal" and "The Professionals." Being a regal and professional person, wearing your colour with dignity meant that one had to be dressed for the part; hence Kelvin dressed to suit every occasion, on and off the stage, to enable the citizens to see that a kingly griot was no ordinary person given to wine, women, song and acts of immorality, but one of splendour and grace. There was the time when a certain calypsonian was called on stage and the fellow approached the podium as he was being announced dressed in jeans, an old shirt and a cap turned backwards. Duke went up to him and said: "Is you next you know?" The guy nodded in the affirmative. Duke asked him again: "Is you next, you know?" The fellow answered loudly: "Duke, Ah know!" Duke asked him a third time: "Is you next?" This time the fellow began to swear, whereupon Duke quietly asked him: "So, you ent changing yuh clothes?"
As a griot too, he had to educate the public and speak out fearlessly against any wrongs committed by public personnel. Hence he sang: "Teach the Children" to educate them and "Black Skin, White Man" to pull feathers off the wings of the elites. Educating the public was his magnificent obsession. Hence, he read widely and almost daily. That is why too, he was quoted as saying:
When calypsonians tell me 'Duke, I find you lucky'
The third part of the inner man that the public may not have seen is the manner in which Duke demanded respect. If a radio programme did not mention his name while speaking of Africa or any theme to which he had contributed, that radio personality would immediately feel the ire of Duke. If a promoter did not advertise Duke's name properly or ensure that his name was on the printed advertisement, Duke would certainly let him know. If enough time was not given him for rehearsals for a show, the promoter again would hear his displeasure. The need for respect was because he valued highly what he was doing and wanted to ensure that high standards of performance must always be given to the public. His demand for respect could have been seen in the fact that he was most upset when a promoter laid down any guidelines for him in terms of what calypso to sing or how to sing it. He used to say emphatically: "Don't tell me what to sing; we calypsonians see things differently." There was the occasion when the manager of Spektakula Forum asked him to sing one song instead of two. "Duke," the manager said, "the second song ent going down too well; sing one." The next night, Duke went on stage and sang four songs. The manager got the message: don't disrespect or devalue my art.
Ah just laugh, because they don't know, while
They making confusion, drinking rum and looking for woman,
I ent drinking; I thinking to make a hit Kaiso.
Respect for the art form was extended by him to conditions that must be in place before he sang.
On tour, he demanded proper conditions and set the example for others to follow. There must be a good room, proper toiletries, proper meals, a dressing room at the concert site, transportation, timely airline bookings etc. before he uttered a note. From him, calypsonians and artists learnt to make demands, but Duke's demands were based on the promoter and public having respect for the art form. There was the time when he and I were put in the same room in St. Croix because the promoter felt that as we were both good friends, we could use one room and he, the promoter, would, at the same time, save a dollar. Duke on realizing the promoter's folly called him immediately. In front of me, he told the promoter. "Listen, Ah was just talking to Chalkie and Chalkie tell me to tell you that he never sleep with a man yet." The manager got the message. But that was the inner man in Duke that you might not have known. Respect for the art form was the main reason why he loved to perform in New York particularly on the Mother's day show at Madison Square Garden. There, the clientele loved and appreciated him as much as you in Pt. Fortin. In 1989, you may recall, he was booed in Trinidad while singing "Teach the Children." In the very same year, at his first appearance at Madison, he sang the same calypso and was given a standing ovation.
The fourth part of that inner man was his great respect for women and the grace with which he spoke to them. Women admired him not only for his dress but for his gracefulness and his method of approach. "How's the lady?" he would say and if the lady was accompanied by a gentleman, he would turn to him and say: "Family, how yuh going?" In other words, neither the lady nor her companion could ever get angry with Duke. After speaking, smiling and laughing with the couple for about ten minutes, he would turn to me and say: "Chalkie, who is them?"
The fifth part of that inner man was the fact that he cherished morals and values. That disposition, he gained from his mother. He disliked uncouth behaviour: fighting, cursing, foul-mouthed, un-caring persons. Surely, there isn't a calypsonian alive or dead who can say that they once heard Duke use an obscene word. It is because of his hatred for things obscene that he sang the calypso: "Morality Gone."
The sixth and final part of the inner man was his love for his mother, his wife and family and his God. Whenever he was in a conversation that lasted more than five minutes, he was sure to call his mother's name. After all, she was the icon who had indoctrinated him into the thinking social scientist that he was. She was the one who nurtured in him the love for music. She was the one who made him into the God-fearing man that he was. In 1968, when I reached the Calypso Monarch Finals for the first time, Duke was the person who called all of us finalists together, made us hold hands and pray. In addition, before going on stage, not many might have known, Duke could be seen praying. Most calypso lovers associate Ras Shorty I with prayer and spirituality, yet Duke it was who first called upon Ras Shorty to pray before going on stage and Duke informed us that, at the time, Shorty did so, hesitatingly. It was only after several urgings that Shorty agreed to pray. Duke, therefore, knew and understood the magnificence of God. Thus he loved to hear Merchant's "One Super Power," and he himself penned the immortal calypso, "The Mystery of Life" in 1982. In it, he mentioned the greatness of God and humanity telling us: "A mind is a terrible thing to waste." His little son Ossasie was telling me when I went to see Duke on his dying bed: "Daddy praying ... he saying God, God." Mere moments before he expired, the last words he uttered were: "mamie... mamie... mamie... God... God... God..." I knew all along and can therefore confirm that he is with his mother and with his God. He used to say: I was born a pope, called a duke and made a king. I can now complete the sentence; it is: born a pope, called a duke, made a king and died a saint.
Let me take this opportunity to thank his wife Rebecca for the dutiful service she rendered to my brother and our friend Duke over the years, resulting in his lasting so long after being diagnosed with his terminal illness. I was fortunate to be at Duke's wedding in Barbados and I could safely say that in my estimation, I have seen few women display their love for a man as she has done for her husband Kelvin Pope. In calypso circles, we would give her a round of applause. Let me on her behalf thank Mr. Eddie Grant for being a friend in need and Dr. Charles for using his medical services and his office in the blood bank to keep Duke alive. Without Rebecca and Dr. Charles, Duke might have been dead four years ago.
Let us all if we appreciate his life and his contribution strive to bring the art form to the children by either opening a school of calypso for children, something that was close to his heart. He wanted too, to be recognized by the University or some such body and I am sure that in the not too distant future our Caribbean universities will reward Duke, as they have rewarded Black Stalin, with a doctorate. He confided to me before his death, his concern for housing and proper maintenance for his wife and son. I do hope the powers that be take note.
In our sadness, we can ease our pains by associating Kelvin Pope with that Shakespearean quote: "His life was gentle, and the elements so mixed in him that nature might stand up and say to the world: this was a gentleman."
May the angels then lead him to Abraham's bosom and may God, who has summoned him from this earth, grant him his eternal reward in heaven, where, I am sure, he will continue to compose and sing hymns of praise to his creator. Farewell my brother. I too am sad, but I am strengthened by the words of Charles Dickens: "The pain of parting is nothing compared with the joy of meeting again." I thank you.
The Mighty Duke's Send-Off
Kelvin 'Mighty Duke' Pope Passes Away