diaspora Festivals Music


The following is the announcement and obituary released by the Center for Black Music Research on the occasion of the death of the Center’s founder – Dr. Samuel Floyd Jr.

Dear CBMR friends and associates:

With great sadness, I write to inform you of the passing of the CBMR’s Founder and Director Emeritus, Dr. Samuel A. Floyd, Jr., who died on Monday, July 11, in Chicago, following an extended illness.

Please see the attached obituary, which was written by former colleagues Suzanne Flandreau, Morris Phibbs, and Rosita M. Sands. It will also be posted on the CBMR web site, at I know that all of us who knew Sam personally or had the opportunity to work with him professionally, profoundly mourn his loss. Yet we are grateful for the rich legacy of work he leaves behind that has forever changed the landscape of musicological research.

Dr. Rosita M. Sands, Interim Director, CBMR; Chair, Music Department, Columbia College Chicago
Dr. Monica Hairston O’Connell, former Executive Director, CBMR
Morris Phibbs, former Deputy Director, CBMR
Suzanne Flandreau, former Archivist and Head Librarian, CBMR

Dr. Samuel A. Floyd, Jr.
2/1/1937 – 7/11/2016

Dr. Samuel Floyd Jr.

Samuel A. Floyd, Jr., educator, musician, scholar and champion of black music research died in Chicago on Monday, July 11, after an extended illness. Dr. Floyd was born in Tallahassee, Florida, on February 1, 1937. He received his bachelor’s degree from Florida A & M University and later earned a masters (1965) and Ph.D. (1969) from Southern Illinois University at Carbondale. He began his music career as a high school band director in Florida before returning to Florida A & M to serve as Instructor and Assistant Band Director under legendary band director William “Pat” Foster. In 1964 he joined the faculty at Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, and in 1978, he began a faculty position as Professor of Music at Fisk University, where he founded and served as Director of the Institute for Research in Black American Music. In 1983 he moved to Columbia College Chicago to found the Center for Black Music Research (CBMR), which became an internationally respected research center under his leadership. Critical to the creation of the CBMR was the establishment of the CBMR Library and Archives, which has grown to be one of the most comprehensive collections of music, recordings, and research materials devoted to black music. At Columbia College, Dr. Floyd also served as Academic Dean from 1990 to 1993 and as Interim Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost during 1999–2001. He retired as Director Emeritus of the CBMR in 2002.

At the CBMR Dr. Floyd devoted himself to discovering and publishing the information that would allow black music to receive its rightful recognition from audiences and scholars. His early publications (with Marsha Heizer) were bibliographies of research materials and biographical resources. Later he edited a collection of essays, Black Music in the Harlem Renaissance (1990), which won the Irving Lowens Award for Distinguished Scholarship in American Music from the Society for American Music. He also edited the International Dictionary of Black Composers (1999) a reference book that won several awards from the library community, including an honorable mention for the American Library Association’s Dartmouth Medal in 2000.

While still at Fisk, Dr. Floyd founded Black Music Research Journal, a juried scholarly journal which moved with him to the CBMR in 1983; it has been published continuously since its founding in 1980. He also founded and edited a grant-funded journal, Lenox Avenue: A Journal of Interartistic Inquiry, dedicated to exploring the role of music within the broader arts of the African Diaspora, the Music of the African Diaspora book series, which is published by the University of California Press, a monographs series, and several newsletters. Under his direction, the CBMR held numerous national and international conferences highlighting scholarly research, sponsored a series of postgraduate research fellowships funded by the Rockefeller Foundation for scholars studying the music of the African Diaspora, and taught two seminars for college teachers on African-American music, under the auspices of the National Endowment for the Humanities. He also established the Alton Augustus Adams Music Research Institute in St. Thomas (2000–2006), U.S. Virgin Islands, to study and document black music throughout the Caribbean.

Performance was another important aspect of the CBMR’s programming. Dr. Floyd created four professional ensembles at the CBMR: the Black Music Repertory Ensemble, devoted to music by black composers; Ensemble Kalinda Chicago, which performed African-influenced music of Latin America and the Caribbean; Ensemble Stop-Time, which concentrated on African-American popular music and jazz; and the New Black Music Repertory Ensemble, which combined the performance capabilities and repertoires of the previous three ensembles. The ensembles, which introduced audiences at every level to black music, produced recordings, performed nearly 200 concerts locally and on national tour, recorded eight nationally broadcast radio shows, and presented lecture-demonstrations in schools.

Dr. Floyd was a prodigious grant-writer who won significant funding to help support the CBMR’s public programming and the development of the CBMR Library and Archives. Among the most supportive agencies were the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Illinois Arts Council, the Institute for Museum and Library Services, the Chicago Community Trust, and the Sara Lee, Joyce, Ford, John D. and Catherine T. Rockefeller, MacArthur, and Fry foundations, among many others.

Samuel Floyd was a true visionary. Through the CBMR he was able to realize his concept of black music as a totality expressing African Diasporic culture across genre and time. His book, The Power of Black Music, published by Oxford University Press in 1995, epitomized his ideas. It was one of the first scholarly studies to transcend historical reporting and synthesize the information he had founded the CBMR to discover and preserve. In his retirement he was engaged in further studies intended to carry his synthesis even further. Two new books are scheduled to be published by Oxford University Press.

Among the awards received by Dr. Floyd in recognition of his vision, service, and contributions are: the National Association of Negro Musician’s Award for Distinguished Contributions to Music, the Pacesetters Award in recognition of Outstanding Achievement in Higher Education from the American Association of Higher Education Black Caucus, and the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Society for American Music. Floyd was a Fellow at the University of Michigan Institute for the Humanities, and was twice a Fellow at the National Humanities Center, Research Triangle, North Carolina, including a term as the John Hope Franklin Senior Fellow. He was also Scholar-in-Residence at the Bellagio Student and Conference Center (Italy), a Robert M. Trotter Lecturer for The College Music Society, and was named an Honorary Member of the American Musicological Society.

Dr. Floyd is survived by his wife of over 50 years, Barbara, and their three children—Wanda, Samuel Floyd III, and Cecilia. No formal memorial has been planned by the family and services will be private. Expressions of condolence may be sent to Mrs. Barbara Floyd, 2960 North Lake Shore Drive #408, Chicago, IL 60657. In lieu of flowers, donations in his memory may be made to benefit his alma mater at the FAMU Foundation, 625 East Tennessee Street, Suite 100, Tallahassee, FL 32308-4933.

Calypso Culture diaspora Ethnomusicology Festivals Music Steel Pan

Carnival, Calypso and Steel Pan:

A Bibliographic Guide to Popular Music of the
English-speaking Caribbean and its Diaspora

By John Gray

A companion to the author’s earlier volume Jamaican Popular Music, this landmark new work helps fill a major gap in the reference literature. For the first time ever it offers students and researchers an in-depth guide to the large body of materials available on masquerade and popular music traditions of the English-speaking Caribbean. Comprised of some 3400 annotated entries it documents a literature, both popular and scholarly, that now spans more than 85 years and ranges across disciplines as diverse as social and cultural history, anthropology, ethnomusicology, literature and economics.

The book’s main focus is on three tightly intertwined topics—Carnival, calypso and steel pan—and how each has evolved, both inside of Trinidad, their most important hub, and abroad in the large West Indian enclaves of New York, London and Toronto. The Carnival side of this trinity, a critical showcase for the region’s music and dance styles, is treated comprehensively. This includes an unprecedented level of detail on each of the four major Caribbean Carnivals—Trinidad Carnival, Brooklyn’s Labor Day Carnival, London’s Notting Hill Carnival, and Toronto’s Caribana—as well as important precursors such as Harlem’s West Indian Day Parades of the 1940s and ’50s and the early London Carnivals organized by Claudia Jones. Carnival’s musical aspects, both calypso and steel pan, are also covered in depth. In the case of calypso that encompasses all of its various forms, from its antecedents in kalinda stick-fighting to the “jump and wave” soca of today. A multitude of contemporary offshoots, e.g., binghi, chutney soca, ragga soca, ringbang, and gospelypso, are also documented in full. Numerous other sources help illuminate calypso’s central role as a vehicle for social and political commentary and its perspective on issues as diverse as immigration, race and gender relations, and national identity. Steel pan, calypso’s cousin, is discussed from the music’s introduction on the regional and international scene in the 1950s to its more recent role in the music programs of North America and Great Britain. A substantial Biographical and Critical Studies section documents the contributions made to these traditions by almost 600 individual performers and ensembles.

Citations span from 1852 to 2012, with the bulk having been published between the 1930s and 2012. They encompass musical and cultural analyses, ethnographies, oral histories, popular histories and reportage along with a wealth of archival, audio-visual, and electronic resources. The book concludes with an extensive reference section that includes a list of Sources Consulted, a guide to relevant Libraries and Archives, two appendices, and separate Author and Subject Indexes.

for more information

Festivals Music

The Music of Ulysses Kay – 2.

This essay examines two of Kay’s compositions: his Scherzi Musicali (1968) written for chamber orchestra, and First Nocturne for piano, which was composed in 1973. In analyzing these two pieces I aim, firstly, to show that Kay progressed stylistically to be worthy of the classification “full-fledged modernist” and reveal some of the twentieth century Art Music compositional procedures that Kay utilized. In doing so I rely primarily on the tenets of post-tonal musical analysis as outlined in Introduction to Post-Tonal Theory[7].


First Movement

Kay wrote this work in 1968 for chamber orchestra of flute, oboe, clarinet, horn, bassoon, and strings. The Chamber Music Society of Detroit commissioned it on the occasion of its Twenty-fifth Anniversary. Scherzi Musicali is atonal in its entirety and it shows that Kay had fully embraced twentieth-century techniques of composition. This piece is aggregate-based in which the composer ensures the circulation of all twelve tones of the chromatic scale throughout most of the work. It also presents and develops the all interval heptachord (0123456).


The first movement is AB in form with and introduction and coda. The introduction is distinguished by a static texture created by the superimposition of the notes of the heptachord [B, C, Eb, D, C#, E, F] on each other. This heptachord is transposed at rehearsal marking 1 (mm. 7), but the texture remains the same (see ex.1).

Ex.1 shows the title page of Scherzi Musicali.

Section A begins in measure 13 with the P designation in the flute. This section presents a linear, contrapuntal working out of thematic ideas and it is characterized by the triplet rhythmic pattern, which is featured in the upper woodwinds throughout. During measure 13-19, the flute carries the triplet pattern and it is taken up by the oboe and clarinet in measures 22-26. The triplets then return to the flute in measure 33.

In this section, each instrument is given its own melodic line but there are imitative passages as well. Imitation is heard in measure 13 where the cello is answered by the viola and double bass respectively, and in measure 22-23, where the clarinet answers the oboe. The melody that begins in the second violin is answered by the cello, first violin, and double bass in succession (see ex. 2). Section A ends with a brief return of the introductory texture in measures 38-40.

Ex.2 shows measures 21- 23.

Kay_ex2.2There is a change in tempo to poco piu mosso to mark the beginning of the B section. This section commences with the violins in unison, the only unison passage in this first movement. This passage, which spans measures 41-45, provides rhythmic contrast to the preceding triplets and possesses a proliferation of sixteenth notes (see ex. 3).

Ex.3 shows the first four measures of section B.

kay_ex3These sixteenth notes constitute the composite rhythm of the B section. After the strings, the oboe and then the clarinet carry this sixteenth-note figuration in measure 50-54. It is presented in a linear fashion until rehearsal 8 (mm. 55). At this juncture, the static texture of the opening returns and all the instruments of the chamber orchestra share the sixteenth-note figuration. At measure 61, the first violin takes up the figuration for one measure.

The coda is preceded by a measure of rest and marked by a return to the original tempo – tempo primo – in measure 68. It possesses the static texture of the introduction, which it imitates in “spelling out” set class (123456).

Click to view the entire essay

[7] Joseph N. Strauss. Introduction to Post-Tonal Theory, Prentice Hall: Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, 1990.

Culture diaspora Festivals Mask Music

Cambridge Carnival: A Caribbean Connection.

The 21st installment of the Cambridge Carnival took place on Sunday, September 8, 2013. The following is a gallery of images from the festive event.

Calypso Culture Festivals Music

In Memory of the Reincarnation of O’Cangaceiro

Satelite Robber from Ken Archer on Vimeo.

May 17th 2018 marks the 8th anniversary of the death of Brian Honore
, who was known in the calypso world as Commentor and in traditional mas’ circles as the Reincarnation of the O’Cangaceiro, Midnight Robber. Brian dedicated his life to the defense and upliftment of the rich cultural traditions of the people of the twin island state of Trinidad and Tobago and the Caribbean at large.

Drop Your Keys and Bow Your Knees

Calypso Culture Festivals History Mask Music

“Rituals of Power and Rebellion”

The following article appears in Repeating Islands, Feb. 10, 2013.

Hollis Liverpool just released his book, Rituals of Power and Rebellion: The Carnival Tradition in Trinidad and Tobago (1763 to 1962), at the John S Donaldson, UTT?Port-of-Spain Campus, last Wednesday, as Michelle Loubon reports in this article for The Guardian.

Strumming his guitar, veteran calypsonian/University of T&T professor Hollis Liverpool sang snatches of his comrade Slinger Francisco’s classic Congo Man. The setting was a canefield. It was captured in black and white film during a presentation by retired Alaskan judge and honorary distinguished fellow Ray Funk at the launch of Liverpool’s Rituals of Power and Rebellion The Carnival Tradition in Trinidad and Tobago (1763 to 1962). It took place at John S Donaldson, UTT Port-of-Spain Campus, Wrightson Road, Port-of-Spain, on Wednesday.

A blurb in the UTT pamphlet said Liverpool had successfully managed to put into context the political, economic and cultural forces which inadvertently come together to create Carnival. It also noted that what appeared to be simply a musical bacchanal was in fact the struggle of the oppressed people to maintain their cultural identity in a land of foreign domination and class struggle. During the author’s oral abstract, Liverpool lamented he had to go to Michigan, USA, to do his PhD, owing to the paucity of research material on Carnival locally.

Asked about his magnum opus, Liverpool said, “Besides historical sources I used oral sources. I depended on calypsonians, masmen, writers, masqueraders and boismen. The people whom I interviewed the majority have gone to the great beyond.” Zeroing on the themes of Rituals and Rebellion, Liverpool added, “To a large extent many of the songs, events and masquerades in Carnival are rituals of rebellion. The kalinda and calypso are rituals. We show our resistance at Dimanche Gras. It is a ritual of rebellion. Even the steelband. The Chinese man who was beating pan to attract people to his church. It was the first time we saw pan being played. It is in the newspapers. J’Ouvert represents the real African traditions of the Carnival. It is what Dr Kim Johnson (senior research fellow) called the African impulse. The soucouyant, La Diablesse and cow horns, bats and devils are in J’Ouvert.”

Asked if he felt there was an improvement in the corpus of Carnival literature, Liverpool said, “I don’t know. But the book is going to be an addition to the archives. The book captures all the documentation and historical development of Carnival over time. “It is intended to impart knowledge on the complex nature of Carnival and the different people who have contributed to its development. To a large extent the Carnival defines our personality and our cultural identity.”

Tributes to Liverpool

While preparing to vie for the C2k13 calypso monarch crown Liverpool heard superlatives about his scholarship. His songs were Prodigal Son and Virginia’s Alzheimer. In the background, traditional mas characters like a moko jumbie and midnight robber milled around. Playing Midnight Robber was Damien Whiskey, a student in Liverpool’s MA in Carnival Arts class. Liverpool had pioneered it. Apart from being an academic, Liverpool has clinched the coveted crown eight times with gems like The Bandit Factory and The Mailman. Programme administrator Lana Allard chaired the proceedings in which each speaker wished him a ninth victory.

But the focus was on Liverpool’s book. Among those paying tribute to him were Funk; deputy chairman board of governors Kwais Mutema; Dr Ajamu Nymoba; Dr Fazal Ali, provost and president (acting); senior research fellow Dr Kim Johnson; and Minister of Tertiary Education and Skills Training Fazal Karim. Johnson made the salient point that while everyone celebrated US president Barack Obama’s victory in 2008, Trinidadians had written history by electing its first black Prime Minister, the late historian Dr Eric Williams in 1962. “It was the end of colonial T&T. Chalkie’s book was about the elements and one crucial element was the voice of the people. The voice of the people was not heard,” said Johnson.

Mutema described Liverpool as a cultural icon and said we are fortunate to have him at the helm of the Academy of Arts, Letters, Culture and Public Affairs. “With a PhD in history and ethnomusicology and as the recipient of the prestigious Nicolas Guillen Life-Time Achievement Award for Philosophical Literature, Liverpool stands well qualified both academically as well as practically, to inform us all,” said Mutema.

Karim noted Liverpool’s study of Carnival is a “continuation of the work of academics who are now deceased like Tobago’s Dr JD Elder and Prof Errol Hill, as well as those who are still with us, like Prof Gordon Rohlehr and Dr Jeff Henry.” Apart from Karim, Liverpool made a special presentation to his friend/chairman of committee US Virgin Islands (St Thomas) Kenneth Blake.

For more info, contact UTT at 642-8888 or e-mail

For the original report go to chalkdust-launches-rituals-power-and-rebellion

See also Calypsonian and WWI Professor Chalkdust launches “Rituals of Power and Rebellion” Repeating Islands.

Calypso Festivals Music

Calypsonian Penguin takes final bow

The Calypso Fraternity and all Carnival music aficionados and enthusiasts moan the passing of Sedley Joseph, who made tremendous contributions to the art-form, as composer, performer, teacher, and past president of the calypsonians’ organization. The following Trinidad Guardian article, written by Raphael John-Lall, pays homage to this stalwart.

Veteran calypsonian Seadley Joseph, who performed under the name Penguin was a “giant” in the calypso art form says fellow calypsonian Leroy Calliste, known also as Black Stalin. “We lost a giant in calypso music, we also lost a friend,” Stalin said by telephone yesterday.

Joseph, 70, brother of former national security minister Martin Joseph, and a former president of Trinidad Unified Calypsonians Organisation (TUCO), passed away yesterday morning after a prolonged illness. He won the Road March title in 1982 with the song A Deputy Essential. He won the Calypso Crown in 1984 with We Living in Jail and Sorf Man. One of his other hits was Look de Devil dey.

Stalin said Joseph will be missed by the calypso fraternity and by the entire country. “He will be missed. His contribution to the artform is too much to even mention,” he said.  Stalin said the younger generation of calypsonians and future generations who get into the calypso genre have a lot to learn from him.

“Apart from his involvement in the music he was also involved on the business side of things and the youths today can learn from how he did things,” he said. President of TUCO, Lutalo Masimba, also known as Brother Resistance, described Joseph’s his death a “great loss.”

“His death is a loss to the music of the world and to T&T as a nation. He was a gifted composer and in my opinion did not get his just due. He was one of the few people who won the Calypso Monarch and Road March,” he said. He said  Joseph’s contribution to TUCO was invaluable.

“What he did for the organisation was important. He pointed TUCO in a progressive direction and it was an honour to work with him,” he said. Winston Anthony Bailey, also known as the Mighty Shadow, was shocked by the news and told the T&T Guardian it was the first time he was hearing of his death but said he did “great work.”

“I knew at one time he was sick. We all have to leave this life at some time, but he did work and made his contribution to the art form,” he said. He added that the younger generation, if they listen to Joseph’s lyrics, might be able to learn something. “This generation if they listen to his melody and humour in his calypsoes could learn something,” he said.

For the original article: Calypsonian Penguin takes final bow | The Trinidad Guardian Newspaper.

Festivals Mask

Wire Bender – One of a dying breed

 The following article was written by Zahra Gordon and published in the Trinidad Guardian, Jan. 15, 2013.

Quammie’s skills are in demand in New York, where he makes costumes for the annual Labour Day Carnival.

Arnim Quammie learned most of his wire bending skills on his own. According to the 66-year-old craftsman who began his mas making career at the tender age of nine, “If you wanted to play mas in those days you had to make your own costume. The bands would have samples but if you wanted to play you had to make your own mas.”

Quammie “born and grow” in St James where he was also involved in the steelband movement. “Older fellas would guide you along the way in some aspects, but most of what I know come from lots of trial and error. It had plenty times when people laugh at my headpiece because it was so ugly but I didn’t care.

“I wanted to play my mas,” he said in an interview yesterday.

By the time Quammie was 17, he designed and constructed a section in a band. Since then, Quammie has worked with numerous bands. Currently based with the band Belmont Original Style Sailors (aka De Boss), Quammie also works on king and queen costumes for both adults and children. In the late 1990s and early 2000s Quammie would also travel to the US annually for the New York Labour Day parade to work with the mas band Burrokeets.

He notes that the wire bending is a dying trade, however, and lamented that the young people whom he once taught were no longer interested in the craft.

“Most people are doing plastic moulding nowadays because they can’t do wire work anymore. Some of the wire benders are dead or aged and the government has no programmes at YTEPP or anywhere to teach young people these things.”

Quammie feels that the loss of interest in wire bending will result in further loss of this culture. “In time to come what you would be seeing for Carnival is more of what we seeing now which is bra and panties because people in T&T don’t appreciate the art of wire bending.”

For the original article: One of a dying breed | The Trinidad Guardian Newspaper.

Culture Festivals Religion

New Year’s Traditions in Suriname

The following report appears in Repeating Islands, Jan. 2, 2013.

Many thanks to Peter Jordens for the translation from the original “Owru yari wasi geen Marrontraditie” by Audry Wajwakana (De Ware Tijd). This post explains some of Suriname’s year-end and New Year’s traditions. Jordens provides clarification for key points.

On the last day of the calendar year, people in Suriname will put all worries aside and look forward to the new year with confidence. In keeping with (Afro-)Surinamese tradition, on this day hundreds of people go to Elly Purperhart on Independence Square for their annual swit watra wasi [sweet water cleanse].

[Swit watra consists of water to which aromatic liquids, herbs and flowers have been added. People either receive the swit watra from a gourd to wash their hands, arms, neck and face on the spot or take a bottle home for washing or bathing. In this way they enter the new year in a clean(sed) manner.]

Anthropologist Solomon Emanuels from the Santigron Maroon village says that this tradition diverges from Maroon culture, in which the ritual cleanse is not performed on New Year’s Eve. “Such rituals are performed one week before Christmas. This enables the individuals or families who live in discord with one another to settle their disputes before the holidays,” Emanuels explains. These rituals are also a way of bidding the old year farewell. “But because of integration into Surinamese society, you will get Maroons who do a wasi on Independence Square. There is nothing wrong with that, but it is not the tradition among Maroons.” There are specific Maroon rituals to welcome the new year. In the first week of the new year, a family member makes a libation to the gods and the ancestors in their Gaado oso [place of sacrifice]. This is accompanied by singing and people also bring rum and pangi [traditional cloth used as a wrap].

An important part of denyung yari [New Year] among the Maroons is the kromanti dance. Kromanti is the god of nature who consists of the elements water, fire and air. The dance is performed in the kromanti oso [place of worship], with much dancing and singing. “Some people may enter into a trance, allowing their body to be taken over by Kromanti who reveals whether they behaved well of badly last year and who instructs them to improve their habits in the new year. During this ritual predictions may also be made.”

According to Emanuels, more rituals used to be performed around New Year’s, but because of the changing times and integration into Suriname’s multi-cultural society, these have been lost. “Some Maroon communities do not even maintain their Gaado oso.” Emanuels says that this is an indication that society is changing and that the importance of religion is declining.

For the original article (in Dutch), see

See also: New Year’s Traditions in Suriname « Repeating Islands.

Festivals Music

Lennox Gray’s “Around My Christmas Tree” has weathered four decades

The following Michelle Loubon article was published in The Trinidad Guardian, Dec. 23, 2012.

Trinis know Christmas time is just around the bend when the airwaves echo with beloved classics Around My Christmas Tree (1978) and Sha-la-la Christmas Song (1976). The evergreens were composed and sung by retired tax auditor Lennox Gray. Unconsciously, Trinis sing the familiar refrain from the Christmas Tree. A popular line goes “Laughing children tug at Mr Santa/Teddy bears and dollies saying mama.”

Effortlessly, they slip into Sha La la’s Christmas Song and its instructions to “Tell your granny/Put the sorrel in the sun to dry/Make the pastelle/bake the ham and now do you know why.” Both ballad-type songs with a subtle hint of American pop icon Johnny Mathis styles have weathered four decades. They continue to enjoy a place of honour during the Yuletide season. The songs have morphed into Christmas staples like parang from Los Alumnos de San Juan and socaparang from greats like Baron and Kenny J. …

Tired of white Christmases
Reverting to the dynamic duo’s genesis, Gray made reference to the turbulent 1970s and the period of social unrest that characterised T&T society. “We have to put the songs in context. There was the revolution in the 1970s. Everyone was seeking or asserting their identity. A group of artistes from the period felt whenever they turned on the radio they were only getting carols like Hark the Herald Angels Sing and Joy To The World. They wanted music with local flavour, texture and appeal. They wanted something that was uniquely Trini. They were tired of the white Christmases. They started clamouring for local styled music,” added Gray.

A band of artistes started writing songs that reflected Trini society and culture. A typical Trini Christmas consists of black fruit cake, red wine, pastelles, ginger beer and sorrel. Gray captured this slice of Trini life in his gems.

“The society wanted songs that they could relate to. I consider myself to have been part of that movement. I was instrumental in creating that local expression,” said Gray. …

Reminiscing on his childhood, Gray said, “My mother was a staunch Catholic. When she regaled me with stories about the Nativity, I got a sense about the majesty of Jesus Christ. My mother had this way of making sense of Bible stories like Noah and the Ark or Jonah swallowed up by a whale.”

Another profound influence was his grandmother (Miss Ferguson) and her traditional methods of preparing Christmas fare. The air was redolent with freshly baked bread and cakes at the family home on Piccadilly Street, Port-of-Spain.

Gray said, “I remember how Miss Ferguson would put sorrel out on the bleach. It was meant for clothes. She would put crimson sorrel out in the blazing sunshine to dry on the galvanise. I don’t know why. I guess it would have made the sorrel taste sweeter.”

Next she made use of her trusty mortar and pestle. “There was an art to crushing it. She would not just boil it with the spices like cloves. She would crush the fruit to bring out the full flavour. Sorrel making was serious business,” added Gray.

As he grew into adulthood, Gray felt he had to archive these stories and experiences by “doing something special for the children.”

He said,“I was moved to do something special for them. Children love to get a hug or a gift from Santa. I think we all know Santa does not come down chimneys in the Caribbean. But we have clung to the Santa Claus tradition.

“The jolly man in the red suit bearing gifts. It stemmed from the religious atmosphere which my mother had created. I had no idea what it would be. I had no idea whether the songs would succeed. But the rest is history.”

While Gray continues to receive tremendous kudos on the frontline, he felt applause should also go to pilot/engineer Max Serrao and Jason for their input into the sounds of the songs. They worked tirelessly on perfecting their craft. “Studios did not have all the hi tech equipment that artistes can make use of now. If a note was wrong, the engineer had to literally cut the tape and join it back. It was a labour of love to work with these guys.”

For the full and original article: Christmas evergreens Lennox Gray’s songs have weathered four decades | The Trinidad Guardian Newspaper.