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Black Prince: Life as a calypsonian not easy

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Staff Article
Interview Recorded: May 30, 2005
Posted: July 05, 2005


Calypsonian Black Prince exemplifies persistence and determination in the calypso arena. This experienced calypsonian has been singing since the 1950ís and has graced the stages of a number of early calypso tents. Black Prince also appears on the Raw Kaiso CD: a recording of live performances, with other kaiso powerhouses such as Zandolie and Lord Blakie. At age 61, Black Prince continues to compose music and perform for appreciative audiences around the world. In this interview, he shares the highs and lows of his experiences in the calypso world.

The earliest memories

Kenroy Smith 'Black Prince'
Kenroy Smith 'Black Prince'
The earliest memories I know is from when I was a little guy around ten or eleven years old. I used to live at John John, and there was a calypsonian there by the name of Commander. At that time, what I really had wasn't a guitar; it was a matchbox. I used to take the matchbox and I would hit it as though it was a guitar, and the same time I was putting music together. I always liked calypso, and I had always liked Nat King Cole and those fellas. One day, they decided to have a competition in Nelson Street Boys School, and I was in it. I had never made a calypso at the time. I went home and I started pounding the matchbox. With that first set of pounding I was singing Sparrow in my head and tapping. I started to put a little thing together and I came up with a calypso I called 'Venezuelan Riot'. At that time, which was around 1958 or somewhere there, they had a riot in Venezuela. I put that calypso together and I went to the school and I won that competition.

After that, Commander took me to the tent. In those days they only had two tents: Kitchener's tent and Sparrow's tent. Commander was a regular at Sparrow's Young Brigade tent, so he carried me around there. I am talking about khaki pants and blue shirt. At that time they did not have many venues. The tent was at Good Samaritan on Duke Street, so I went down there and I sang my calypso. I sang the same calypso and I won the competition with, 'The Venezuelan Riot'. In those days, when you go to the calypso tent it was a different kind of thing. Firstly, they didn't have any band with music sheets and so on. They had a band, but when it was time for you to sing, they used to tell you to throw your voice. Maybe the experienced calypsonians used to have their rehearsals, but when we came, they would give a tosh, and the announcer would talk his talk. And while he was talking his talk, the bandleader looked around and said, "Throw your voice... la la or what ever." He said when I catch him he's in 'C' and with that they started to blow the horns. In those days they used to have a tall banister on the stage and you could have hardly seen the musicians; only the singer could be seen in the front. I probably sang about twice during the season. That was that.

The following year I went to audition with a fella they called W.B.E Lewis. He had a talent show, like how they had 'Scouting For Talent', which is an old talent show. He used to call it 'Opportunity House'. The show used to be held in an office he had upstairs on the corner of Henry and Prince Streets. I went to the audition. They always had a saying about a calypso mashing-up the place (which means bringing down the house), so everybody was saying, that Prince mash-up the place. But when the results came out for the tent, they mashed me up.

After that I nearly get mash up, because I lost my zeal, my spirit, and I stayed out of the game. Blakie was from behind the bridge; he grew up there. He said to me, "You always say you could make calypso." I am talking from that time in 1958 to somewhere around 1971. It was a period when I had a 'kaiso tabanka', and I didn't want to hear any calypso or hear the radio. On this particular evening, Blakie said, "Since you could sing calypso, come and let me hear you." He carried me upstairs in a club on George Street named Vendors, and I sang my calypso.

By that time, even though I didn't want to hear any calypso and so on, I would be writing calypsos because the thing was in me. I wrote a calypso about the badjohns, because in those days there were gang wars with steelbands and all the well-known badjohns. So I made this calypso about how they were giving trouble, and when they meet me what will happen: like I will throw arsenic on them, and chop off their hands... if you hear things what I decide to do those criminals and them. Well knowing Lord Blakie, from the time I start to sing that, he started to laugh. He told me, "okay", and that he was in the tent, which he had by the name of Victory. He said,"Come back down tomorrow evening." He gave me an advance one time. Fifty dollars in those days was real money, and I was really happy. I went the following evening, and this time I met a big audience, and the Lord said, "Sing the song." I sang the song and everybody clapped and so on. Then he asked me, "Do you know that fella there? They are the same men you want to kill." (Laughter). Well like all the fellas and them got to like me just so, and they had never seen me anywhere to say that they had known me, and even up to now (those who are still alive.) That was the returning.

That year I sang the same song, which was sung in San Juan. The song was about violence, and the name of it was, 'Ah Fed Up and Ah Cyar Take it No Longer'.

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