Black Stalin. Photo by Angelo Marcelle
THE nation was plunged into mourning on Wednesday as it woke up to the news that the loveable calypso icon, Black Stalin (Leroy Calliste), 81, had died after ailing for eight years.
Local radio stations deferred regular programming to play his many gems, allowing people locally and from abroad the opportunity to call in and express their sadness as well as condolences to Stalin’s family.
Many broke down in tears as they remembered this Caribbean giant’s distinguished career of six decades and his inability to return to the stage after he suffered an ischaemic stroke in 2014, which affected both his speech and movement on the right side of his body.
Tributes poured in from local and regional politicians, as well as colleagues who reflected on his life and contribution to the art form of the five-time calypso monarch.
Stalin’s only surviving sibling, Gloria Calliste, 78, also broke down in tears as she received the news while clearing goods at Customs, Point Lisas, that her elder brother died peacefully at his Turton Street, San Fernando home, surrounded by loved ones, including his wife, Patsy.
When the reason for her tears became known, others also awaiting approval for their goods became emotional, expressing condolences to the family. Customs officers also fast-tracked her clearance.
In an interview with the Newsday, an emotional Gloria said, “I love my brother. I wish he was still alive, but I am content that his death on Wednesday morning is simply God’s will.
GREAT MEMORIES: Dr Leroy Calliste, left, with Linda “Calypso Rose” Lewis during a visit to the Black Stalin in San Fernando. Accompanying her was, from left, Roy Cape, Joan Yuille Williams and San Fernando Mayor Junia regrello. PHOTO COURTESY SAN FERNANDO CITY CORP –
“He suffered long, for many years since 2014 when he got that stroke. Now his pain and suffering has ended. This is God’s will. I will always love him and I wish him a peaceful transition and for his soul to rest in eternal peace.”
She said she resigned herself to his passing about a week ago when she had a dream and a terrible omen something was about to happen when the glass cover of her pot shattered while she was making a pot of pelau and the splinters contaminated the meal.
She said what her family lacked in money, made up for in talent. She recalled when Stalin first got a spot to sing in Sparrow’s Calypso Brigade Tent, “I was the only one with $20 in savings in the bank. I took $19 and gave him to buy a stingy brim hat, pants and a chequered shirt for him to go on stage.
“He was a wonderful brother. When I visited him, he would cry because he could not express his feelings verbally. I would always love him.”
Although saddened by the passing, president of the of the Trinbago Unified Calypsonians’ Organisation’s (TUCO) Ainsley King called on the nation to look on “the brighter side” and celebrate the unique life of the Black Man and the 60-odd years he entertained and educated the masses.
“I know the brother and he understood this is a temporary world and his time has come. He has departed and all we have are his memories and we are going to hold on to that.”
King said Stalin made his contribution, to the extent where, “The legacy he left behind is very powerful, pleasant and positive one.
“As president of TUCO, I must say that I really celebrate this man’s life in a special way. I am grateful to his family who contributed positively to his life, so by extension he could contribution to the nation and the world which embrace calypso.
“I want to thank them and extend condolences to the organisation and everyone associated with calypso. We mourn with them at this time. It is a massive loss for the country, for the fraternity, but we are grateful for his contribution.
“We at TUCO understand we have to do all within our power to make sure the music of Black Stalin and the memories of Black Stalin and all the other greats that continue to fall, that we have a duty to preserve the works of these people.”
Leroy “Black Stalin” Calliste –
Several iconic calypsonians and soca artistes have made their transition this year, including Winston Henry who sang under the sobriquet Explainer, the Mighty Bomber (Clifton Ryan), sweet soca parang icon, Kenny Joseph, better known as Kenny J, soca artiste Dexter “Blaxx” Stewart and Singing Francine.
King recalled Stalin’s caring, consistency, stability, intelligence as a person and his commitment to and encouragement of younger artistes to hone their skills.
King said his lyrics and music demonstrated that, “he was a man who had a purpose – to make sure that he contributed positively to humanity and to the world.
“His did this with his songs, standing out, Caribbean Man which was taken seriously across the region and used as point of reference at some universities.”
He recalled his ability to craft social commentary in a love song, Black Man Feeling to Party, dedicated to his wife Patsy, deciding that after their struggles he was taking her out to party, proved his capability as a composer.
“My favourite is, Sufferers, in which he drove home the point that sufferers did not care about money or race or status, but about where their next meal was coming from. So serious. So truthful.”
Stalin’s friend for over five decades, Roy Cape who credited Stalin for naming his band Roy Cape and the All Stars, said he visited him about one week ago and they shared a lot of love and laughter.
“At that time, I did not think there was anything to be alarmed about. The Black Man’s loss is a great loss to TT and the calypso world, but we should not be sad because Leroy was never a sad man.
“Wherever Leroy went he brought life and energy. He always had us laughing but when was time for serious business, he was serious.
“He was a beautiful man, a beautiful husband, beautiful father and beautiful friend. May his soul rest in eternal peace.”
Two years ago, former calypso monarch Dr Hollis “Chalkdust” Liverpool told the Newsday he was not ruling out a miracle in Stalin’s recovery and called for prayers of healing.
Wednesday’s news shocked him.
“This is a big one we lose here,” he said. “Even though he had a stroke, I did not expect him to die. People last a long time with a stroke.”
Chalkie said he made several calls to New York to share sad the news, “And all of New York was in mourning because Stalin was such an outstanding calypsonian in all respects.”
Chalkie dubbed him, “the fixer.”“Wherever there was a calypso show, you could find Stalin. You may not see him, but he was always in the background listening.
“Whenever we had auditions for calypsonians from different tents, Stalin would be there.
“He would tell me, some young calypsonians spoiling the calypso, so he used to go to the auditions to correct them.
“He had an ability to listen to calypso and tell you what was wrong. It did not matter who you were, he would pull you aside and tell you may have been good in verse one, but you could improve in verse two if you did so and so. He loved the art form and wanted to see it improved.”
Chalkie recalled singing a line in one of his calypsos called Quacks and Invalid, in which he incorporated a line, “the day Black Stalin stop singing, this blessed art form would be suffering. Too much quacks and invalids.
“So, we suffering now for Stalin.”
Even though he was off the stage since his stroke, Stalin continued to be celebrated by organisations and those in the fraternity.
Among them, the University of the West Indies St Augustine Campus, which conferred him with a Doctor of Letters (DLitt) in 2008.
In a statement, UWI said “There is no question that the passing of this intrinsic “Caribbean Man” is a tremendous loss – not just to Trinidad and Tobago but to the Caribbean and the Diaspora.
“Calliste, who was considered one of the major practitioners of traditional Calypso, provided insightful social and political commentary in his compositions.
“In 2015, The UWI hosted, in collaboration with Media 21, a successful Benefit Concert in his honour featuring his longtime friend, Roy Cape, and a stellar lineup of his fellow calypsonians.
“The UWI extends condolences to his family, friends, and the Calypso fraternity.
He was also celebrated by the San Fernando City Corporation with the naming of part of Lord Street where he was born, in his honour.
San Fernando mayor Junia Regrello said he was happy this was done while he was still alive.
“San Fernando has lost a son who has distinguished himself in the calypso art form.
“Dr Leroy Calliste advocacy on the plight of the poor man was consistent on a wide range of issues as he clamoured for social upliftment, dignity and the need for political awareness.
“He was the quintessential calypsonian, representing a brand that is almost extinct. This speaks to the fact that he was a singer and composer. His journey started in the 1960s and over the years his music has not lost its appeal or magic. It remains relevant and one I am sure will be enjoyed by generations to come.
“His compositions will remain etched in the archives of our history.
“On behalf of the people of San Fernando l extend my sincerest condolences to his loved ones in their moment of grief.”
The legendary calypsonian also became the first recipient of a Legacy Award, conferred on him by former President Anthony Carmona and Presentation College, San Fernando in 2021.
The award and a cash donation of $10,000 was presented to Stalin’s wife at a tribute concert held at WACK Radio to celebrate his 79th birthday on Republic Day, 2021.
At that concert, many young and veteran calypsonians gave of their time to raise funds for Stalin’s care.
Among some 35 performers was Denyse Plummer who recalled her baptism of fire when she performed at Calypso Fiesta, Skinner Park for the first time.
She told the Newsday then, “When nobody else wanted me around, he taught me to be a calypsonian. I cried when they (audience) pelt me (at Skinner Park) and he told me ‘don’t leave.’ I did not leave and I came back and I won the Monarch – the highest honour in the land for a Calypsonian – with Nah Leaving.
“If it wasn’t for you, Black Stalin, there would be no me.”
Newsday attempted to contact her yesterday, but was told she had a procedure and was unable to give a comment at this time.
Funeral arrangements would be made at a later date as several relatives who live abroad have expressed the desire to attend his final farewell.