The Mighty Sparrow baptized at Far Rockaway Beach: Report

The Mighty Sparrow
The Mighty Sparrow.
Associated Press / Tim Larsen/File

The Mighty Sparrow, the undisputed Calypso King of the World, was baptized on Saturday at Far Rockaway Beach in Queens.

According to the Searchlight newspaper in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Sparrow, 87, whose real name is Slinger Francisco, was “taken into the water of Holy Baptism by Vincentian Seventh Day Adventist Pastor Claudius Morgan.” Morgan, a former calypsonian, carried the sobriquet “Samaritan Singer.”

The paper said that Sparrow, who now resides in Queens, was “dressed in all white” for his water baptism.

“He is now known as Brother Francisco (and is) a member of the Linden Seventh Day Adventist Church in New York,” the Searchlight said.

While celebrating his 87th birthday in July, the legendary Mighty Sparrow told the Trinidad Express newspaper that the felt “wonderful.”

The publication said that Sparrow, who was born on Jul. 9, 1935, was expected to spend his special day listening to a radio i95.5 FM tribute, dubbed “Sparrow Day.”

The Express said the musical buffet, hosted by presenters John Gill and John Wayne, featured “a slew of (Sparrow) classics,” like “Jean and Dinah”, “Sa Sa Yea,” “Both Of Them,” “Drunk and Disorderly,” “Survival, Capitalism Gone Mad” and “Education.”

Sparrow, who grew up in Port-of-Spain, the Trinidad capital, was born in the fishing village of Grand Roy, Grenada.

He moved to Trinidad and Tobago as a one-year-old with his mother. His father had relocated there in 1937.

Sparrow, who is also a songwriter and guitarist, is regarded as one of the most renowned and most successful calypsonians.

He has won Trinidad and Tobago’s Carnival Road March competition eight times, Calypso King/Monarch eight times, and has twice won the Calypso King of Kings title.

In reflecting on his life and career, during his 87th birthday celebration in July, Sparrow told the Trinidad Express: “Everybody gone (passed on) and left me. Winsford Devine (celebrated songwriter who wrote some of his megahits).

“I was just looking at a video with Kitch (short for Kitchener, whose real name was Aldwyn Roberts) and I. We were dancing and carrying on on stage,” Sparrow said. “Now he’s gone.

“I was looking at another video, ‘We Are The World’. It has a host of performers like Shadow (Winston Bailey). Now he’s gone,” Sparrow added. “Guitarist George Victory, and artistes like De Fosto, Rootsman, Brigo and Penguin passed on.

“Sugar Aloes and Cro Cro are in the video. They are still here,” Sparrow continued. “It was a beautiful experience to work with all of them.”

In July 2010, the United States Congress listed Sparrow in its Congressional Record.

As the Caribbean community in New York, on Jul. 9, 2010 celebrated Sparrow’s 75th birthday, Caribbean American Congresswoman Yvette D. Clarke said that she ensured that Sparrow was listed in the Record.

“It is important that the entire nation know what the Mighty Sparrow has done for us,” Clarke, the daughter of Jamaican immigrants, told an honor ceremony at Brooklyn Borough Hall, downtown Brooklyn, organized the entertainment company, Dee Vee International Productions, owned by Grenadian-born, Brooklyn resident Derek Ventour.

“So, we have entered him in the Congressional Record,” added Clarke, representative for the then 11th Congressional District in Brooklyn. She now represents the 9th Congressional District in Brooklyn.

Reading from the Record, Clarke said then that Sparrow had entertained audiences “from the Caribbean to Asia and all points in between,” in a career spanning over 50 years.

The Congressional Record states that “The Birdie,” as Sparrow is also called, had found success early with his hit, “Jean and Dinah,” at the age of 20.

“Not satisfied with early success, he followed up with a rapid succession of hits, including ‘Carnival Boycott,’ ‘P.A.Y.E.,’ ‘Russian Satellite,’ ‘Theresa,’ ‘Good Citizen,’ ‘Salt Fish’ and ‘Penny Commission,’ just to name a few,” it says.

The Record says that Sparrow’s songs cover a “broad range of socially conscious topics, including education, tyranny in Africa, animal cruelty and the welfare of his home of Trinidad and Tobago.”

The Mighty Sparrow’s accomplishments include multiple Trinidad and Tobago Road March Competition titles; multiple Calypso Monarch titles; an honorary doctorate from the University of the West Indies; and general contributions to music and society, with then New York City Mayor Ed Koch, proclaiming Mar. 18, 1986 “The Mighty Sparrow Day,” the Congressional Record notes.

In presenting a citation, then New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Sparrow “touched the lives of countless listeners.”

Former Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz said, in jest, that he became a “Trini,” short for Trinidadian, from Tunapuna, because of the Mighty Sparrow, stating that Sparrow’s “Congo Man” was one of his favorite songs.

“It is wonderful that you can understand his music and his words,” said Markowitz, declaring Jul. 10, 2010 “The Mighty Sparrow Celebration Day,” before presenting a citation to Sparrow’s daughter, Nicole Robinson.

Former New York State Assemblyman Nick Perry – the Jamaican-born, ex-representative for the 58th Assembly District in Brooklyn, currently United States Ambassador to Jamaica – said Sparrow’s history, as the Calypso King of the World, is “unchallenged and undisputed.”

Perry, who also presented a citation, during the celebration, described Sparrow’s achievements as “extraordinary” and “unique.”

In saluting the calypso maestro, erstwhile Grenada Prime Minister Tillman Thomas said very few artistes from anywhere can boast of an on-going career that has spanned in excess of five decades.

“Indeed, you have made significant contributions to Caribbean and world culture, politics and story-telling, through your tremendous wit, extensive breadth of topics covered and unsurpassed propensity to build on, innovate and capture new rhythms across genres,” said Thomas at the time in a statement.

With his baptism Saturday as a Seventh Day Adventist, it is uncertain if the legendary Mighty Sparrow will ever again sing calypsos to his legions of fans worldwide.

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