By Dr. Richard A. Byron-Cox
It was a bitter-sweet moment for me when Winston “The mighty Shadow” Bailey was posthumously decorated with a Doctor of Letters by the University of the West Indies (UWI).
Shadow’s recognition followed those of Sparrow and Black Stalin; all truly more than well deserved. From Sparrow’s “Education” to his “Capitalism gone made” and everything in between, we see a master of all masters.
Stalin’s cry for Caribbean Unity, the awakening of the Black man, and putting Dorothy in check among others, are heart-tugging anthems that uplift our people in their common struggle for a brighter tomorrow.
And Shadow’s “My Belief”, “What is Life?” and “Everybody is Somebody” are declarations that individual/personal sovereignty of heart, mind and soul must never be compromised. This is a magnificent “trinity”!
In St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) there is golden duo that we have given to the world! Their names MUST join that illustrious roster of UWI’s honorary doctors. One, the Maestro! Frankie Macintosh.
The other, the foundation as in ABC, “Alston “Becket” Cyrus. Lest there be accusations that I make this call purely because I am Vincy too; I hereby offer some basic facts on which my seemingly nationalistic nepotism is based. As everything must have a foundation, Let’s begin with the ABC.
Becket became a household name in SVG after winning calypso king in 1975 with his classic “Carnival History.” He never looked back! He has since recorded more than 30 albums, written hit after hit including “Coming High” and “Teaser”.
He has penned serious commentaries that have global significant such as “Open Letter to President Carter”, “Oppression,” “I am and African,” “Love is the Answer,” and many more. He has celebrated West Indies Cricket with songs like “Combine” and “We Coming Back.” He has participated in calypso tents and carnivals across the region. His music has been featured in films.
He has won many awards, supported charities, promoted younger artistes, has won many Roach Marches, and has been a tremendous example for many.
Becket’s contribution to our music, culture and social upliftment spans more than two score years. In that time he has proven to be extremely versatile giving us from Soca-rock and Calypso-disco to the calypso jazz of “St. Vincent I love” and the roots reggae version of “oppression.”
He has headlined shows from New York to Toronto to London, and in all of it remained Caribbean to the core; extremely proud of his people and their contribution to the world through music, sports and other endeavours.
And he did one more truly magnanimous thing for which we all owe him! He introduced the world to the Maestro, the GREAT, Frankie Mcintosh.
It was through becket’s second album, Disco Calypso that we really came to know the Maestro, who has arranged every song that becket has sang since. Many like Teaser and Calypso Disco became mega hits. But Frankie did much more than that. Crazy (Edwin Ayoung) first Parang Soca album was arranged by the Meastro.
This was a huge success and established “the Lovable Lunatic” in the hearts of many. Indeed, it is argued that Frankie is the true father/creator of Parang Soca. After Blue Boy (later Super Boy) had made winning the Road March second nature, Sparrow turned to Frankie and “backed up” Blue Boy and all others with “Doh Back Back”!
A check of Frankie’s discography would show that he has worked with all the greats in calypso who were/are alive from the day he came on the scene, helping some win Roach Marches and monarchs. Just ask Chalky.
There are those who regard him as the greatest calypso arranger of all time, but he does much more than arrange. He writes songs, conducts music, produces, and is a master keyboardist. He masterminded the musical arrangement on countless successful albums.
It cannot be disputed that his contribution to the calypso artform and Caribbean music goes way beyond that of any other single musician or arranger to date. From Explainer to Scrunter rightfully sing his praises; and the whole world has come to know calypso and Soca much better thanks to his commitment, genius, and ability to work with anyone and everyone.
Based on all supra dictum (which is only a prologue of sorts), it is only right and just that UWI adorns this Icon with honours so richly deserved. Not to do so will not only be a grave travesty; but it will be a statement that UWI only seems to appreciate the efforts of some countries.
It will also fly in the face of our own PM’s thesis that the Vincentian component of our noble Caribbean civilization is as authentic as any. But more than anything UWI will be refusing to honour one of the region’s greatest cultural icon; a man who has not only touched the entire region, but indeed the world.
Frankie, Like Fidel, the Great Sobers and Richards, Toussaint and Fanon, is one of the Caribbean greatest gifts to the world! UWI must acknowledge this!
Finally, I call on historians, like Curtis King and Dr. Clive Scott, both graduates of UWI and the latter himself involve in the music industry, to lead a people’s mission (through inter alia further research on the work of these icons) to have these doctors given their due.
People like Dr. Hollis “Chalky” Liverpool, Ajamu out of Grenada, King Short Shirt of Antigua and calypsonians from across the region and in the diaspora must see that they have stake in Frankie’s exaltation, for in this the cultural unity of our people finds physical embodiment through all and one; at one and the same time!
Becket and Frankie must be fully appreciated while still with us. Jack must begiven his jacket, and honour given where it is due. This is honour long overdue! UWI must act honourably!