Lord Nelson, BECKET to receive UWI honorary Doctor of Letters

Alston BECKET Cyrus of St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
Alston BECKET Cyrus of St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
Photo by Nelson A. King

The University of the West Indies (UWI) announced last Monday that veteran calypsonians/soca artistes Lord Robert Nelson of Trinidad and Tobago and Alston BECKET Cyrus of St. Vincent and the Grenadines will be among 16 to receive UWI honorary degrees, as in-person graduation ceremonies return to the illustrious university.

UWI said in a statement that Lord Nelson and BECKET will both receive honorary Doctor of Letters (DLitt).

Lord Nelson will be honored for his contributions to culture and calypso, while BECKET will be honored for his work as a soca artiste/composer, UWI said.

“The University of the West Indies (The UWI) will welcome 16 outstanding global citizens to its graduation stage this year,” the statement said. “In keeping with annual tradition across the five campuses, the University Council has approved conferral of the 16 at The UWI’s 2022 Graduation Ceremonies.

“The honorary graduands, recognized for their contributions to several areas including sport, culture, law, business, and science will join the 2022 graduating class in-person this year, as a majority of campuses return to face-to-face ceremonies,” it added. “However, The UWI Open Campus will retain the hosting of a virtual graduation ceremony.”

UWI said its 2022 Graduation Ceremonies take place between Oct. 8 and Nov. 5.

It said this year’s honorary graduands join the ranks of a prestigious list of fewer than 500 persons who have been awarded since 1965.

UWI said soca music legend Robert Nelson, better known as “Lord Nelson” and “Nello”, is regarded as “one of the most amiable and sought-after calypsonians and a pioneer of soca.”

Born on the tranquil island of Tobago, he migrated to the USA in 1952 seeking a better life, UWI said.

It said Lord Nelson accidentally discovered his gift for performing and took his newfound talent to the clubs and dance halls of New York City, singing the songs of popular calypsonians of the day, like Kitchener, Sparrow and Lord Melody.

Strategically positioning himself, UWI said Lord Nelson networked with calypso singers from across the Caribbean, like Duke of Iron, Attila the Hun and the Mighty Dukem who encouraged him to write his own songs.

“Nello was quick to give back, providing a space and the necessary business contacts for contemporaries,” UWI said. “His introductions were critical to the success of artistes like Sparrow, Melody and Duke.

“Even nine-year-old soca artist Machel Montano found a slot to perform in his show in Paris, France,” it added.

It said Lord Nelson has performed across the USA, Europe, South America and the Caribbean.

“His music has always been categorized as revolutionary, as he changed the boundaries of calypso by incorporating the roots and rhythms of African drums, R&B, American jazz, Latin and various Caribbean styles,” UWI said.

“As one of the acknowledged architects of soca music, Lord Nelson is responsible for the term ‘soca’”, UWI said. “It was developed from the term Soul Calypso.”

It said some of his hit songs “Disco Daddy”, “La La” and “King Liar” became international Caribbean hits.

UWI said Lord Nelson’s classic Soca hit “Meh Lover” dominated Trinidad and Tobago’s Carnival for two years in 1982 and 1983, also delighting Caribbean and international markets.

“A true cultural ambassador for Trinidad and Tobago, Lord Nelson overcame obstacles of acceptance in Trinidad and Tobago and received several notable accolades, including the first Johnnie Walker Black Pioneer Award by the Copyright Music Organization of Trinidad and Tobago (COTT) in 2007, the Tobago Heritage Festival – Special Appreciation Award and the national Humming Bird Medal Gold in 2017,” UWI said.

It described BECKET as “an outstanding Caribbean soca/ragga-soca/calypso artiste and composer.”

“He has fostered an illustrious 47-year career with 28 albums; numerous award-winning singles; one movie soundtrack — ‘Disco Calypso’, in the motion picture The Deep; five compositions featured in four American TV program, including ‘Full House’ and ‘The Tonight Show With Jay Leno’, and eight Road March titles, all to his credit,” UWI said.

It said BECKET first came to the spotlight in 1975, when he was crowned St. Vincent and the Grenadines’ Calypso Monarch with two songs “Carnival History” and “Mass at Victoria”.

In his long career, UWI said BECKET has performed on stages across North America, Britain, Colombia, Spain and the Caribbean.

He is also one of only a few Calypsonians to be signed by a major record label, Casablanca Records in 1977, alongside artistes, such as Donna Summer and KISS, UWI said.

It said BECKET’s international hits include “Coming High” (1977) – on which he worked with Dr. Frankie McIntosh, acclaimed calypso/reggae arranger – and “Teaser” (1990), which was released from BECKET’s own label Cocoa Records and subsequently recorded in over 10 languages.

In Germany, UWI said “Teaser” was released by Polydor recording label, one of the world’s largest.

In 1994, “Ella me Vacilla/Esa Chica”, the Spanish version of “Teaser” was named Salsa/Tropical Song of the Year by Billboard/Univision, UWI said.

“While he is well known for entertaining songs, like ‘Small Pin’, ‘Gal Ah Rush Me’ and ‘Doh Eat And Lie Down’, his music has gone beyond party music,” UWI said. “He made regional and international social commentary on a wide array of topics including politics, cricket, black pride and human rights, with songs like ‘I am an African’; ‘Grenada Will Rise Again’; ‘Laramania’; ‘President Obama’; and his 1984 song, ‘Love is the Answer’, which was remade in 2011 to commemorate 9/11,” UWI said.

In commemoration of the Caribbean hosting the 2007 Cricket World Cup, it said BECKET released “Cricket Is We Ting”, an album containing ten original tracks all about cricket.

In 2000, UWI said Alston BECKET Cyrus became the first Caribbean artiste to perform at the US Open tennis tournament and was listed as one of the 17 Outstanding Caribbean Personalities of the 20th Century.

In 2001, UWI said BECKET was named a Goodwill Ambassador for St. Vincent and the Grenadines and, in 2010, became the first soca/calypso artiste to perform at the Montreal International Reggae Festival in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.

Other recipients of UWI honorary degrees will be: Sir Richard Benjamin Richardson of Antigua and Barbuda for his contribution to sport – Doctor of Laws (LLD); Dr. Cleopatra Doumbia-Henry, PhD, LLM of Dominica for her work in International Labor and Maritime Law – Doctor of Laws (LLD); Sir Hugh Anthony Rawlins of St. Kitts and Nevis for contributions to the Judicial arena – Doctor of Laws (LLD); Dr. Joy St. John of Barbados for her work in medicine and public health leadership – Doctor of Science (DSc); Ambassador Gabriel Abed of Barbados/UAE for entrepreneurship and pioneering digital currency – Doctor of Laws (LLD); and E. Neville Isdell of Ireland for contributions to business and philanthropy – Doctor of Laws (LLD).

The others are: Dr. Shakuntala Haraksingh Thilsted of Trinidad and Tobago for contributions to agricultural science and nutrition – Doctor of Science (DSc); Ingrid L-A Lashley of Trinidad and Tobago for her work in corporate banking/finance – Doctor of Laws (LLD); Rosalind Gabriel of Trinidad and Tobago for her work as a band leader/entertainer – Doctor of Letters (DLitt); Dr. Wayne A. I. Frederick of Trinidad and Tobago for contributions to surgical science – Doctor of Science (DSc); Professor Orlando Patterson of Jamaica for his work as a historical and cultural sociologist – Doctor of Letters (DLitt); Senator Dr. Rosemary Moodie of Jamaica/Canada for paediatric medicine and philanthropy – Doctor of Science (DSc); Adam Stewart of Jamaica for his work as an entrepreneur/philanthropist – Doctor of Laws (LLD; and Diane Jaffee of the USA for her work in finance – Doctor of Laws (LLD).

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