Mighty Sparrow — Person of the Year

The Mighty Sparrow performing at Everybody’s magazine’s Pre-Mother’s Day Concert at Brooklyn College this year.
Photo by Hayden Roger Celestine

The man whose reputation established Grand Roy, Grenada as a Caribbean place of interest was recently voted Person of the Year by Caribbean nationals who agree the Mighty Sparrow should wear the 2014 title. According to Everybody’s Magazine publisher Herman Hall, voters of his publication named 79-year-old Francisco Slinger the most worthy individual to receive the 2014 honor.

Initiated since 1977, the annual gesture heralds an individual who has excelled in a career field or has made an impact on the Caribbean community. Criteria to decide worthy individuals included most importantly that the person must be of Caribbean background — born or residing in the Caribbean, born or living in the Caribbean Diaspora which includes the United Kingdom, Canada, the USA and other regions.

In order to fully qualify, eligible candidates had to also fulfill these requirements:

(1) The person’s actions should make a positive regional impact and/or impact the Diaspora.

(2) The individual’s achievement should be based on success during 2014 or based on accomplishments throughout the years.

“This year, we asked readers and our social media friends” to participate in deciding the most suited individual. The response was overwhelming,” Hall said.

Votes flooded in via email messages from Toronto, Canada, London, England, Jamaica, Guyana and cities throughout America.

Although there were a record number of suggestions including Tiffany Ford, of Saint Lucian-Grenadian heritage who was elected into municipal government in Toronto; Rodneyse Bichotte, the first Haitian-American elected to the New York State Assembly; Barbados Leader of the Opposition Mia Ottley; the 2008 and 2014 Formula One Grand Prix World Champion Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain who is of Grenadian heritage; outgoing U.S. Attorney-General Eric Holder who is of Barbadian heritage; and Antigua/Barbuda’s newly elected Prime Minister Gaston Browne.

The impressive list of candidates varied with qualifying individuals representing a wide range of career fields. However, when the votes were counted it was Grenadian transplant to T&T that won the year.

Gemma Raeburn-Baynes, president of Playmas Montreal Cultural Association and A Taste of the Caribbean Festival explained in her email: “I nominate The Mighty Sparrow — Slinger Francisco — The Calypso King of the World.”

She added that her principal reason for naming the monarch her choice — “Although we all thought that we lost him last year when he was in a coma for over three months, he persevered and is back to entertain us with renewed vitality and vigor.”

“This indomitable spirit has been the defining feature of Sparrow’s life work as he continues demonstrating sheer grit and an ability,” Hall stated. He added that the singer has been “inspired by God” to “survive through pain, sorrow, and tears.”

Hall alluded to Sparrow’s “Survival” hit recording saying his “timeless message and his health challenges testify to man’s will to survive.”

“Any person, in any part of the world, regardless of sex, age and vocation, can emulate the virtues The Mighty Sparrow exemplified during 2014. For those reasons, we unabashedly proclaim our readers’ selection of The Mighty Sparrow as the 2014 Person of the Year! Wikipedia states that the singer “received his performing name “Little Sparrow” during his early career, as a result of his energetic stage performances.”

He was only 14 years old living in Port -of-Spain — where his parents migrated to settle soon after his birth July 9, 1935 — when he embraced calypso as the music he wanted to champion.

Of his early years, the singer explained: “Your calypso name is given to you by your peers, based on your style. In the old days they tried to emulate British royalty. There was Lord Kitchener, Lord Nelson, Duke. When I started singing, the bands were still using acoustic instruments and the singers would stand flat footed, making a point or accusing someone in the crowd with the pointing of a finger, but mostly they stood motionless. When I sing, I get excited and move around, much like James Brown and this was new to them. The older singers said “Why don’t you just sing instead of moving around like a little Sparrow.” It was said as a joke, but the name stuck.

The Little Sparrow later became The Mighty Sparrow.

Ironically, the genesis of the 37-year-old tradition by the popular magazine started at the end of the first year of publication of the Caribbean-American magazine when “a little bird” suggested that both a man and woman should be distinguished for their efforts that year.

Hall cannot recall the name of that mystery “bird” but said he quickly established what has become an anticipated announcement.

The first year, two women took the honor with Janelle Commissiong of Trinidad & Tobago winning the Miss Universe beauty pageant and also claiming the title of the first Black woman to win the international contest.

Calypso Rose could not be overlooked in 1977. She became the first woman to win one of the highest titles in calypso, the Trinidad and Tobago Road March.

Since then, personalities such as Edward Seaga, a former prime minister of Jamaica, Dominican Prime Minister Mary Eugenia Charles, Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm and Olympians Usain Bolt and Kirani James have been bestowed Persons of the Year.

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