Tears were shed yesterday by many in the calypso fraternity while others struggled to come to terms with the news of the passing of calypso icon Sandra “Singing Sandra” Des Vignes-Millington.
The 64-year-old who had been ailing for some time passed away at Eric Williams Medical Science Complex, Mount Hope in the early hours of yesterday morning.
Her death came as a shock to the country especially artistes and musicians who all described the “Nobody Wins A War” singer’s passing as the ‘loss of a great mother.’
Though not a mother to any biological children, they say she often mentored and nurtured young female calypsonians.
In his tribute to her memory, Trinbago Unified Calypsonian Organisation (TUCO) president Lutalo Masimba, said Des Vignes-Millington, who was a founding member of the Kaiso House Calypso Tent’s headline act, was considered by many of the younger singers as the mother of the tent.
He said they would have all benefited from her comfort and spirit and her passing would surely leave a void in the culture of the Kaiso House experience.
Soca ‘royalty,’ Fay-Ann Lyons-Alvarez dittoed, Masimba’s sentiments, adding, Des Vignes-Millington was the embodiment of a powerful female artiste who stood up for the culture and its continued development.
“She took on the mother role through her years, supporting and encouraging and even collaborating and appearing on shows and events, etc. Sandra is Queen—Mother of Calypso,” Lyons-Alvarez said.
But not only was Des Vignes-Millington regarded as a mother in the arena, the East Dry River native who experienced social struggles as a youth, was also considered an ‘intercessor’ on behalf of the voiceless and the marginalised, which was demonstrated in calypso social commentary chart-toppers like “Voices From the Ghetto,” which gained her the 1999 Calypso Monarch title, making her the second female in the art form to ever win the title, after Calypso Rose in 1978.
She repeated this victory in 2003 with the compositions “Ancient Rhythms” and “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” this time making history as the only female to date, to cop the title twice.
She is also remembered as the woman who, early on, highlighted gender-based issues in song with her offering, “Die With My Dignity,”—a comprehensive lyrical dissection of predatory practices by men in the workplace.
Singing Sandra bridged the gap between Calypso and Soca
Des Vignes-Millington who made her foray into calypso land straight out of her Best Village days also proved her support to the evolvement of the T&T founded art form, endorsing fully the younger generation of soca—a genre born of calypso. This was most noted in her 2014 collaboration with a then young Ian “Bunji Garlin” Alvarez on the soca knockout—“Coofy Lie Lie.”
Alvarez told Guardian Media in a WhatApp interview; Des Vignes-Millington was the strong hand that could skilfully guide, something the industry needed.
He praised her for closing the gap that once was, between calypso elders and the youth of soca saying his collaboration with her was the start of the peace treaty between the art form’s generation gap.
“She never feared coming to all those youth events of all sorts and shining bright as an example that talent trumps gaps of any type. We were blessed to have such an icon belonging to T&T,” said Alvarez.
Soca artiste Olatunji, who had plans to collaborate with Des Vignes-Millington this year, similarly agreed that her mentorship would be her lasting impact.
“Well definitely that’s how singing Sandra was to every artiste, young artiste coming up in the game, she always give that extra effort to give advice nah, give fruitful advice as possible even with a tough-love styling and also a lovey-dovey styling as well. She is really magical in that kind of way,” he said, “The lasting impact is definitely a mentor. She always mentor young people, young calypsonians, anytime you in the art form and you’re doing it and you love it she is going to try her best and come out of her way to try to mentor you and give you good advice. So I will always remember her as the mother.”
Musical talents knew no bounds
As would a true legend, not only did the United Sisters founder, contribute to calypso but Des Vignes-Millington delved into varied aspects of T&T’s musical cultural landscape, dabbling effortlessly in the seasonal genre of soca-parang. Her song “Paramin” is still considered a staple among soca-parang selections.
In an interview with Alicia Jagassar, president of the National Parang Association of Trinidad and Tobago (NPATT), she said Des Vignes-Millington brought life to parang and NPATT recognised the stalwart for her contribution to the preservation of the art form through her story in song.
“On a personal note ‘mother’ (Des Vignes-Millington) was part of my formative years as my performing career started as a calypsonian. ‘Daughter’ she calls her children and I was one of her daughters who she would have blessed with words of wisdom and support,” Jagassar shared.
A lasting legacy beyond music
Tributes also came from veteran producer Leston Paul who lamented that Des Vignes-Millington’s passing was another blow and another great loss to the fragile calypso industry. He said her voice of passion, emotion and lyrical messages she conveyed through her songs, would forever live on.
Former Guardian Media editor Peter Ray Blood, who knew Des Vignes-Millington personally said besides creating history in the calypso arena, Des Vignes-Millington was regarded as a mother to several young and upcoming female calypsonians, especially Karene Asche, also a past national monarch.
He said what impressed him most of his old friend was her eagerness to be always willing to advise and help a sister calypsonian.