COVID-19 might have cancelled Carnival 2021’s parade of the bands’ competition, but culture lovers still revelled celebrating a huge honour bestowed on Dr Leroy “Black Stalin” Calliste yesterday.
After decades of gifting this country with calypsoes, that provoked dancing and engendered national pride, Calliste’s name was memorialised on a street. Born on Lord Street, San Fernando in 1941, Stalin now has the honour of having his former neighbourhood called Dr Leroy Calliste Street.
The San Fernando City Corporation changed Lord Street, from Coffee Street to Paradise Street, to Dr Leroy Calliste Street while the remaining roadway leading to Harris Street retained its name.
The 79-year-old was not well enough to attend the festive occasion, which was filled with steel pan music, drumming, traditional masqueraders and some of his colleagues singing renditions of his many hits. However, his wife Patsy enjoyed the celebration, dancing to the Black Stalin’s “Bun Dem” as calypsonians, Terri Lyons and Brian London sang to the beat of drummers at the corner of Leroy Calliste Street and Mucurapo Street.
She said the honour was long overdue. Sharing an intimate story of their life, Patsy said after meeting Calliste on Harris Promenade in their youthful years, Lord Street was their hideaway to spend time together. Back then, Calliste was known as the Mighty Stalin.
“We used to hide here and hold hands. So, this street was marked for a very long time. I am very proud. Our families never knew about our dating days on Lord Street. Our love really started on Lord Street,” Patsy said.
For San Fernando Mayor Junia Regrello, Calliste’s work is deserving of appreciation as he said Stalin drew his material from the various expressions on the streets. He said, “Calliste’s was contemptuous of various governments for squandering the public purse and always advocated for the black man and woman.
“The everyday cries and suffering of the people, his compositions reflected the life of the poor and working-class and the failure of the delivery of justice, which were all articulated in his songs,” Regrello said.
National Carnival Commission chairman Winston “Gypsy” Peters said, the honour was not just significant to Calliste but the steelpan and calypso fraternities that have undergone stress and deprivation.
Recalling the scorn and contempt pannists and calypsonians faced in the early days, Peters said this was still alive today.
“To this very day, some people do not want their sons and daughter to have anything to do with people who play pan. Many years ago, if we were unveiling a plaque; that plaque would have said No calypsonian or dog allowed.”
Peters, however, praised universities for recognising their contributions and awarding honorary doctorates to cultural icons like calypsonian Slinger “Mighty Sparrow” Francisco, pannist Len “Boogsie” Sharpe and, of course, the Black Stalin.