A street-sign unveiling in honour of veteran calypsonian Leroy “Black Stalin” Calliste created a mini Carnival-like atmosphere in San Fernando on Carnival Tuesday.
The 79-year-old five-time Calypso Monarch did not attend, for health reasons.
But despite this year’s cancellation of Carnival, Dr Leroy Calliste Street came alive with Carnival characters like moko jumbies and blue devils dancing to live drumming and music from a portable radio.
The renamed street (formerly Lord Street) runs from the corner of Coffee Street to Paradise Street.
Members of the San Fernando City Corporation hosted the ceremony in a nearby car park. Police blocked off part of the street, near the corner of Mucurapo Street, and redirected traffic.
San Fernando mayor Junia Regrello said Calliste was born on Lord Street on September 24, 1941, epitomising the phrase “Born in the heart of San Fernando.”
He said Calliste began his illustrious career as a limbo dancer and pan player before joining Southern Brigade Calypso Tent in 1959. He moved to the calypso tents in Port of Spain, where Lord Blakie christened him The Mighty Stalin, for his fearless style.
Regrello listed several of Calliste’s songs, among them Beat My Tune, The Caribbean Man, Better Days are Coming, Black Man Feeling to Party and Sufferers.
“His work will remain etched in the archives for our scholars, educators and students to research,” Regrello said. “His appreciation of the art form, the people, his country and the Caribbean have connected him in such a way that he is loved both by his and the current generation. His music has and is simply timeless.”
Several calypsonians attended, among them Brian London, Weston “Cro Cro” Rawlins, Steve “Ras Commanda” Pascal, Winston “Gypsy” Peters, Roy Cape, TUCO head Lutalo “Brother Resistance” Masimba and Terri Lyons.
Rural Development and Local Government Minister Kazim Hosein and former culture minister Joan Yuille-Williams also attended.
Calliste’s wife Patsy, 74, sang and danced to his music. She recalled that they first met at Harris Promenade and often hung out at Lord Street. Back then, he was called the Mighty Stalin.
“We used to hide here and hold hands. So this street was marked a very long time. I am very proud.
“Our families never knew about our dating days on Lord Street. This was our hiding space when we were young. Our love really started on Lord Street,” she said.
On the renaming of the street, Patsy said it was long overdue.
As for Stalin’s health, Patsy said,”He is doing good. He is at home right watching it live (on social media).
Veteran calypsonian Peters commended the organisers for honouring Calliste, saying the event was of great significance for the pan and calypso fraternities. These fraternities, Peters said, have undergone a lot of stress and deprivation.
“Both went through the same type of situation, a situation where today in this country some people still scorn some calypsonians. To this very day, some people do not want their sons and daughter to have anything to do with people who play pan,” Peters said.
“Many years ago, if we were unveiling a plaque, that plaque would have said: ‘No calypsonian or dog allowed.'”
Peters recalled first meeting and performing for Calliste in 1962 at the age of ten in Mayaro. Peters, who wrote his first song at four, said he sang an original composition.
Peters, the chairman of the National Carnival Commission, commended the universities for awarding honorary doctorates to cultural icons, among them Calliste, Cape, Slinger “Mighty Sparrow” Francisco and Len “Boogsie” Sharpe.
Cape recalled meeting Calliste in 1977, adding, “Leroy trusted me with his music, his career, taking bookings and handling his money. To his family, I feel as if I am family. Up to today, I am amazed at the work he has done, not for self but for the country.”
Kazim said Calliste would go down in history as one of the best calypsonians in south Trinidad and said he would like to see other icons honoured similarly. He promised to speak with the corporations on the proposal.