Vincentian musical icon marks 25th anniversary of commemorative stamp

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Vincentian musical maestro Frankie McIntosh in honorary regalia.
Frankie McIntosh

Brooklyn-based Vincentian musical giant Dr. Frankie McIntosh has begun celebrating 25 years of a commemorative stamp in his honor by the government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

Dr. McIntosh — a pre-eminent Caribbean musician, arranger, composer, musical director and producer — told Caribbean Life exclusively Sunday night that was “difficult for me, in 2022, to describe the emotions experienced 25 years ago, when a commemorative stamp bearing my image was issued by the then government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines,” under the New Democratic Party (NDP) administration of late Prime Minister Sir James F. Mitchell.

“Neither can I vividly recall all the particulars surrounding its issuance,” said McIntosh, who, in December 2020, was conferred the Doctor of Letters (D. Litt), honoris causa, by the University of the West Indies (UWI).

“Although the government’s gesture was highly valued, I didn’t consider it necessary to proclaim the good word to the general public,” added a very humbled Dr. McIntosh, who was musical arranger, keyboardist, technical producer, pianist, music software programmer and conductor for some of the most prominent Caribbean calypsonians, such as Alston “Becket” Cyrus; The Mighty Sparrow; Explainer; Calypso Rose; Obstinate; Short Shirt; Shadow; Swallow; Lord Kitchener; Crazy; Winston Soso; and Duke; among others.

“Only close relatives and friends were informed,” continued McIntosh of the commemoration. “That remained the case until a few days ago, when my sister, Cheryl, took the initiative to post a photo of the stamp on her Facebook page, thereby triggering a groundswell of congratulatory messages.

“I beg your indulgence in permitting me to extend, via this forum, a heartfelt ‘Thank you’ to all well-wishers,” Dr. McIntosh said.

According to the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Postal Corporation, the Frankie McIntosh Stamp was issued on Jul. 24, 1997.

“’Good news travels slowly but arrives in the end, thank goodness. Bad news always arrives a day too soon’”, said McIntosh, quoting Halldór Laxness (1960). “Could Mr. Laxness have had foresight of my commemorative stamp, released in 1997, but making news headlines today, 2022?”

He said that it was on a Wednesday, when Cyprian “Cyp” Neehall, the editor of the local Vincentian newspaper, called him in New York from St. Vincent and the Grenadines, stating that he was “instructed, by whom I don’t recall, to convey the news that the government had plans to put me on a stamp, but would need a photo by Friday.”

Dr. McIntosh said he rushed to a photo studio close to his Brooklyn residence, “and, in regular home clothes, took a few half-body shots.

“These were sent to Cyp on Thursday,” he said. “I first saw the stamp one year later on a visit back home.”

Dr. Frankie McIntosh’s commemorative stamp.

More than a decade later, Dr. McIntosh said his Boys’ Grammar School (secondary school) comrade, Dr. Ralph E. Gonsalves, incumbent prime minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, personally recommended him for a diplomatic passport and a UWI honor.

“These gestures made it clear to me that both governments, like the people of SVG (St. Vincent and the Grenadines), valued my work on its own merits and not because of the color of my T-Shirt,” he said. “I am profoundly grateful and proud of this. It speaks well for SVG that artists were being recognized for such honors decades before the practice became fashionable in the region.”

Dr. McIntosh said none of his forebears was born with the proverbial “gold spoon,” stating that they all “worked hard to achieve whatever they accomplished, and I have tried to follow their example.”

He said while the commemorative stamp bears his image, it represents his family, friends, supporters and associates.

“It represents my musical influences from SVG, Trinidad, the USA and elsewhere — the support of the general public, my immediate family, musical associates and other friends,” Dr. McIntosh said.

“Once at Kennedy Airport (John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York) a customs officer became overwhelmed on examining my passport and discovering a stamp which I had placed inside,” he added. “He had ‘never met anyone on a stamp before’

“As my contemporaries pass on, the inevitability of death becomes a stark reality,” Dr. McIntosh continued. “However, I feel gratified that legacy of this stamp, and other honors, will tell the story to my descendants that their ancestors did something in life, which was appreciated by others.

“Through music, he imparted joy and love to the world, at least in some small measure,” he said, speaking about himself. “And, perhaps, that would serve as an inspiration.”

One of McIntosh’s arrangements, Becket’s “Calypso Disco”, became the soundtrack of the movie “The Deep.”

The UWI said, during the conferral, that Chalkdust’s 1989 Calypso Monarch-winning “mellifluous Chauffer Wanted”, another classic musical arrangement by McIntosh, “underscored the brilliance, as well as the versatility of this Vincentian and Caribbean virtuoso.”

“What is amazing, nay, beguiling, is not only his musical genius, but his courage and ability to maintain a ‘professional’ disposition and straight face while arranging Winston Soso’s ‘How Some Men Love They Women’; or Mighty Swallow’s ‘Fire in the Back Seat’ and ‘The Man with the Pepper Sauce is Boss’; or Becket’s ‘Teaser’ and ‘Coming Higher’; and, indeed, The Mighty Sparrow’s ‘Don’t Back Back on me,’” the UWI said.

It said that McIntosh – a classically-trained jazz musician, with the BA degree in music from the Brooklyn College of the City University of New York (CUNY), MA degree in Jazz Performance from the New York University (NYU) School of Education and a licensed teacher from the NYC Board of Education – has made “an indestructible mark on authentic Caribbean music and, ipso facto, bona fide Caribbean culture.”

“He was not constrained by nationality or other parochial interests in the deployment of his talent,” the UWI said. “With a totally Pan-Caribbean and Diasporic sensitivity, he found the time for teaching and assisting younger performers, arrangers and musicians, not just the big popular names.

Dr. McIntosh’s mentors and teachers were world renowned and iconic, like John Lewis of the Modern Jazz Quartet; Zenon Fishbein, a Chopin proponent; and Robert Starer, noted US composer.

Dr. McIntosh, a former member of the travelling group, “The Wonderful World of Charlie Brown and Yvonne,” backed up groups such as The Shirelles; Jay and the Americans; The Platters; and Inkspots.

His particular arrangement of “Betcha” by Golly Wow fame caught the attention of the legendary Phyllis Hyman, who later recorded her own version of it.

The UWI said the subject of a 1991 Class Magazine article by Trinidadian Les Slater, a Brooklyn resident, summarizes Dr. McIntosh’s awards and citations over the years: “Frankie McIntosh: Master Musician.”

“And so does his receipt of a diplomatic passport from the government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines and his induction into The Sunshine Awards Hall of Fame NYC in 2015, to name but a few of his well-deserved accolades,” the UWI said.

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