Slinger Francisco, better known as Mighty Sparrow or Birdie, is one of the most famous calypso singers and songwriters. He is recognized as the king of calypso.
Slinger Francisco was born on July 9, 1935, in Gran Roi, Grenada, in a poor family. When he was one year old, his family moved to Port of Spain, the capital of Trinidad and Tobago. He became interested in music at an early age and was selected to participate in the choir at his school, the New Town Boys School. As a member of the choir and a soloist, Mighty Sparrow learned Gregorian music and holy music, which influenced his compositions and singing. At the same time, Mighty Sparrow grew up listening to the music of Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, Sarah Vaughan, and many important calypso singers, such as Lord Kitchener, Lord Melody and Lord Invader, among others.
At age 14, Mighty Sparrow began playing calypso and formed his own steel pan group to participate in Carnival. At age 20, Mighty Sparrow broke onto the national calypso scene by winning both the Road March and the King of Calypso title with his song Jean and Dinah during the 1956 Carnival. The monetary prize was $40. Bothered by the small size of the prize, he decided to protest and wrote the hit song Carnival Boycott in 1957. Mighty Sparrow said that because of that song and his protest he became part of the Carnival Development Committee, which sought to improve the conditions for calypso and steel pan bands. Although he refused to participate officially in the calypso contest for three years, Mighty Sparrow continued to participate in unofficial ways, including winning the Road March prize in 1958 with his song P.A.Y.E. (Pay As You Earn).
His songs reflect a wide range of issues, from situations of daily life to political criticism, both national and international in scope, such as the song Federation (1959), which expresses his disappointment with the breakup of the Caribbean Federation, or his song The First Black Miss Universe (1978), in honor of the first Miss Universe of African descent, Miss Penny Commissiong of Trinidad and Tobago.
In the late 1950s, with the explosion of calypso at the international level (in part thanks to the fame of Lord Kitchener), Mighty Sparrow traveled to London and to various cities in the United States to promote his work. During this era he recorded albums with RCA Victor. He returned to Trinidad and Tobago disappointed with the experience, however.
Between 1960 and 1975, the biggest prizes in the main calypso competitions in Trinidad and Tobago went to Mighty Sparrow and Lord Kitchener.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, he began to experiment with soca, a musical hybrid of calypso, cadence-lypso and local musical forms. In 1984, he won his eighth Road March title with the calypso-soca song Doh Back Back.
Among the many awards and honors he has received during his career are the title of Chief Omowale of Ikoyi from the government of Nigeria in 1977, national recognition by the Virgin Islands and the government of Trinidad and Tobago in 1980, and in 1984 the mayor of New York City, Ed Koch, proclaimed May 18 as “Mighty Sparrow Day.”
Sparrow has produced more than 70 records, performed countless concerts around the world, won the main awards in calypso multiple times, and has contributed to the spread, development and continuity of this musical genre.
Today, Mighty Sparrow still writes songs and performs in concert.
Author: Mintzi Martínez
Published: May 01, 2012.
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