Aldwyn Roberts, better known as Lord Kitchener (or simply “Kitch”), was born on April 18, 1922, in Arima, Trinidad and Tobago. Called the “Grandmaster,” he was one of the most important figures in the calypso world and one of the most influential steel drum composers.
The son of a blacksmith and a homemaker, Lord Kitchener became interested in music at an early age. At 10 years old, he wrote his first calypso song and learned to play guitar. When he was 14, his parents died and he dropped out of school to go to work. Between 1936 and 1942, Lord Kitchener made a name in Arima, joining various groups, writing local hits such as “Green Fig” and developing the style that would make him famous. In 1938, he won first prize in a calypso competition organized by the Arima Borough Council, a title he retained until 1942.
In 1944, Lord Kitchener moved to Port of Spain, the capital of Trinidad and Tobago, where he met the leading calypso performers of the time, such as Destroyer, Atilla the Hun, and others. He unveiled a song called “Mary, I am Tired and Disgusted,” which became a hit and opened doors in Port of Spain. Little by little, his songs found success and in 1946 he opened his own calypso tent, called Young Brigade, where his performances were always sold out. In 1947 he was named Calypso Performer of the Year.
In 1948, he moved to London and became one of the central figures in the African and British West Indies migrant population. His popularity grew beyond these communities. It was said that among his fans were President Harry S. Truman and Princess Margaret of England.
In 1953, he decided to move to Manchester, where he met his wife, Marjorie, and they had a son, Kernal Roberts. There he opened his own nightclub, formed his own band, made two tours of the United States and was owner of an apartment building. He also recorded various records with the record label Melodisc. During the 17 years he lived in England, he maintained his ties to Trinidad and Tobago, sending songs for Carnival with hits such as “Mama Look the Band Passing” and “Nora Nora Nora.”
In 1963, he returned to Trinidad and Tobago for the Carnival, causing an uproar among the new generation of calypso singers. From 1963 to 1976, Lord Kitchener’s songs won the Carnival Road March title 10 times and in 1975 he was named King of the Carnival. Also, 18 of his songs, written for other groups, won the Panorama Prize between 1964 and 1997.
In Trinidad and Tobago, he opened a tent called Calypso Revue in 1964, where a new generation of calypso and steel drum musicians and songwriters got their beginnings over the next 30 years, including performers such as Iwer George, Merchant, Organizer and Penguin.
In 1996, the government of Trinidad and Tobago organized an event in honor of Lord Kitchener’s musical contributions, directed by Rawle Gibbons and Noble Douglas. Although he could not play because of his health, Lord Kitchener received a long ovation and a commemorative certificate from the hands of President Noor Hassanali.
During his long musical career, he wrote about 350 songs, almost all of them calypso. His songs cover an endless number of topics. His legacy is unquestionable, as the current generation of calypso singers, in one form or another, shares links to the Calypso Revue or their songs show clear influences from Lord Kitchener’s musical style.
Lord Kitchener died on February 11, 2000, in Port of Spain. He was buried at the Santa RosaCemetery in his hometown of Arima. The government of Trinidad and Tobago commissioned a statue in his honor in the capital.
Author: Mintzi Martínez
Published: May 04, 2012.
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