Slinger Francisco, the Mighty Sparrow, is a revered entertainer who is universally celebrated as the Calypso King of the World for his legendary body of work, his impact on the art form, his unrivalled international appeal and enduring star power. Among his peers, he is respected for his stand in defence of calypsonians.
Brought to Trinidad as a baby from his birthplace of Grenada, the Mighty Sparrow was just 20 when he took the calypso world by storm. The immortal “Jean and Dinah” made a clean sweep, winning the 1956 Calypso Monarch and Road March competitions and establishing a new calypso order.
Stung by the paltry prize of $40 compared to the rich business sponsorship of beauty queen competitions, the Mighty Sparrow put his grouse into song with “Carnival Boycott” and stayed out of the Calypso Monarch competition for three years. With his soaring popularity, he succeeded in wresting financial and other concessions of benefit to all calypsonians. The consciousness that he brought is credited with the launch of the Carnival Development Committee as a support agency for Carnival interests, including calypsonians, steelbands and mas bands.
He broke more new ground in 1958 when he received the first cash prize ever for a Road March title with his calypso “P.A.Y.E.” from the CDC. Over his career, the Mighty Sparrow won eight Calypso Monarch crowns, eight Road March titles, countless other competitions, and released over 70 albums covering a broad range of music that extended to R&B covers and gospelypso.
With his socio-political commentary and witty take on public affairs, the voice of the Mighty Sparrow became one of the most influential in post-Independent Trinidad and Tobago. The man in the street tuned in to national, regional and international affairs through his interpretations in such calypsos as “Federation”, “Dan is the Man”, “Capitalism Gone Mad” and “Phillip, My Dear”. Audiences the world over were seduced by his salacious “Mae Mae”, “Saltfish” and “Congo Man”. Universal respect came his way with his refusal to perform in apartheid South Africa, urging instead that the UN “Invade South Africa” (1985).
In 1987, he was awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of the West Indies, which he promptly parlayed into the spicy “Dr Bird”. Slinger Francisco is also the recipient of two national awards, the Humming Bird Silver Medal and the Chaconia Gold Medal, and is immortalized in bronze at the entrance to the city of Port of Spain, whose rhythm he changed forever.