Mighty Sparrow receives Carlos Lezama Award

Mighty Sparrow receives Carlos Lezama Award|Mighty Sparrow receives Carlos Lezama Award
Photo by Nelson A. King|

The Brooklyn-based West Indian American Day Carnival Association (WIADCA) on Monday night bestowed the Carlos Lezama Lifetime Achievement Award on the Mighty Sparrow, the Calypso King of the World, at a gala reception in Brooklyn.

The late Lezama, who was born in Venezuela and raised in Trinidad and Tobago, was the founder and fist president of WIADCA. The group was formed in 1967.

“I’m, indeed, very pleased, and I accept this award with great humility,” said Sparrow after receiving the award from WIADCA’s new president, William Howard, at the organization’s Appreciation Cocktail Reception, at the elegant Giando on The Water catering house in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn.

Afterwards, Sparrow delighted the appreciative audience, which included Jamaican-born New York State Assemb. Nick Perry and New York State Sen. John Sampson, the son of a Guyanese immigrant, with “Together We Aspire,” “Congo Man” and “I Am a Slave.”

“There are some people who deserve to be appreciated, including the Mighty Sparrow,” said Perry, who represents the 58th State Assembly District in Brooklyn. “There is no way to over-indulge in expressing his contribution to Caribbean culture. He’s blessed, and he’s still standing.”

WIADCA also conferred its Corporate Appreciation Award on Antonia Yuille Willams, director of public affairs of the utility company, Con Edison.

In addition, the Allen Family, owner of the popular Allan’s Bakery in Brooklyn, received WIADCA’s Community Service Award.

The carnival group also celebrated the 90th birthday of Brooklyn-born singer, composer and guitarist Irving Burgie, who wrote the National Anthem of Barbados, with a cake. Burgie’s mother was from Barbados.

Burgie then led the standing-room-only reception down memory lane, with the nostalgic “Day-O,” “Down the Bay,” and “O, Islands in the Sun.”

Sparrow, 78, whose real name is Slinger Francisco, was awarded the Chaconia Gold medal in 1993 and the Humming Bird Silver medal in 1969 by the government of Trinidad and Tobago.

On returning earlier this year to a hero’s welcome to Trinidad and Tobago, where he was raised and became famous – after he had slipped into a coma last September in a New York hospital and when rumored to be dead – the administration of Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar announced plans to pay Sparrow’s medical bills and recommended that he be awarded the Order of Trinidad and Tobago, the twin-island republic’s highest award.

Over the years, Sparrow, considered the best-known and most successful calypsonian, has received a host of awards and citations, including the Order of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and an honorary doctorate from the University of the West Indies.

Several cities in North America have also declared “The Mighty Sparrow Day,” including Winnipeg, New York, Boston and Greer, South Carolina, according to the Miami Herald.

Sparrow, who was born on July 9, 1935 in the rural fishing village of Grand Roy in Grenada, moved to Trinidad and Tobago with his mother when he was only a year old. His father had relocated there in 1937.

A calypso singer, songwriter and guitarist, WIADCA said Sparrow won the Calypso King or Monarch title in Trinidad and Tobago 11 times – more than anyone else – and the Road March title eight times, also more than anyone other than the late Lord Kitchener, who was considered the grand master of composition and rhythm. Sparrow has more than 75 albums to his credit, WIADCA said.

Sparrow grew up in Port-of-Spain, the Trinidad and Tobago capital, and began singing as a small child.

But his love of calypso was discouraged while at Newton Boys Catholic School, where he sang in the choir, according to his biography.

At 14, Sparrow joined a steel band comprising neighborhood boys, and performed with the band at carnival.

He received his performing name “Little Sparrow” during his early career, because of his energetic stage performances.

Sparrow’s first performance as a carnival singer came in 1954 with “The Parrot and the Monkey”.

In 1955, he made his first recordings “Missing Baby (Ruby),” “High Cost of Living” and “Race Track”.

In 1955 and 1956, he also recorded “Give the Youngsters a Chance,” “Family Size Coke,” “Goaty,” “No Doctor No,” “Clara Honey Bunch,” “Yankee’s Back Again,” “Jean And Dinah,” “The Queen’s Canary” and “Sailor Man.”

In 1956, Sparrow won Trinidad and Tobago’s Carnival Road March and Calypso King titles with “Jean and Dinah,” also known as “Yankees Gone,” in which he celebrated the departure of U.S. troops from the island.

In more recent times, Sparrow continued to incorporate social issues into his calypsos, such as “Crown Heights Justice” in the wake of the 1991 Crown Heights Riot in Brooklyn.

“Sparrow challenged all with his antics and stage presentations,” said WIADCA in the reception booklet. “He upped the ante by delivering clearly articulated lyrics with a velvet voice in song ‘stylings’ that often rivaled the best jazz improvisation – all of this while expressing many a song with somewhat devilish facial expressions and antics.”

Ninety-year-old singer, composer, guitarist Irving Burgie performing at the Giando on The Water catering house.
Photo by Nelson A. King