Black Prince: Life as a calypsonian not easy

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

The name 'Black Prince' was given to me

Kenroy Smith 'Black Prince'
Kenroy Smith 'Black Prince'
Outside of Trinidad, I have been to St. Vincent, Barbados, Antigua, St. Thomas, St. Croix, St. Martin, Miami, New York, England, Canada and so on. I went to a lot of places and what was nice about it is that I got a good reception. I will continue touring as long as they send the ticket. One night I was coming from New York, and when we reached and we took the transfer from Puerto Rico, the plane started to do all kind of things in the air. People started praying... if you see silent prayers. Have you ever seen people praying with their eyes? Their mouths not saying a word but if you see their eyes. That was a funny night.

Then there was a lady on the plane who was in pain with pregnancy. I said to myself, "But this is a picture; is only in the movies this kind of thing happens." Shadow and I were coming from New York together, and when we reached Puerto Rico, he decided to take a plane coming from Miami and go to Tobago. When I looked out the window, all I was seeing was darkness. I didn't know if it was forest or sea underneath the plane. I tell myself, you know the king from hell gone. They do and do until they got the plane to turn back, and about four hours after they said the plane was ready to go. They came and asked me if I was going on the plane. I said no; that I was waiting for a plane in the day. They asked me if I didn't want to go home, and I told them, "No I don't want to go home, I want to reach home."

I am sixty-one. They say God grant me three scores and ten; very few people I know make that three scores and ten. You make the three scores, and you get lick up making the ten. I made sixty-one, so judging from what is written in the book, I have nine to go. I am not sure to make it, and I do not want to get any set of blows from people and then die and they throw a set of dirt on top of me. What sense that makes? I find that is too much for one lifetime.

The name 'Black Prince' was given to me by the calypsonian Commander. I grew up in John John, and if anyone out there knows what John John is about would know that John John is ghetto. And at that time it had a reputation because we had Desperadoes and Tokyo chopping up people. That was in the days when they had opened the project. Back then is when they had disunity between the badjohns. That was what the whole project thing was about. At that time it was twenty-seven dollars a fortnight men used to work for. I grew up there, and I never got into any trouble, because with my mother, by six o'clock I had to be inside. When it was time to play I had one little partner who is now a Police Inspector, and he used to come and put up my kite for me and hand me the bobbin through the window. I would fly the kite through the window, and anytime the kite bust, he had to run for it. I would pitch by myself on top of the bed, and the marbles used to be all under the bed. Commander said, "But you are a prince; you are a Black Prince." He was speaking about the area, the way of life there, and how I was growing up. That is how the name came about. It is Commander who gave me that name. You do not live in ghetto area that way. My name before that was Lord Sylvester. That was my school days name.

To be honest, I am no real guitarist. I consider myself a rum shop guitar man. I will explain that. It was the tradition. The calypsonians, when I got into the game, always had their guitars in some popular rum shop where he was drinking his thing, singing a calypso and extempoing. He used to play the open chord. Crazy, who was my schoolmate, showed me how to play the grand bar. When I won the calypso competition Crazy was not singing as yet, he was in school. He came and he showed me the grand bar, and I kept playing a few positions in the grand bar. But, if a man comes and he tells me to give him certain chords, I could play the same thing, but I do not know the name. I tell myself my head cannot take that. I have a whole sheet with guitar drawn out and everything. I took guitar lessons in St. James, and somehow I can remember what he showed me sometimes, and at other times I don't. I cannot say learn, because if I had learned, I wasn't supposed to forget. I could play good if I am accompanied and I will know the chords. A real guitarist will make a chord here, a chord down inside there, and then a chord back here. How that fella gets to those chords is a real formation, and I cannot do all of that. I could get my chord to play my song in my formation. I am just a simple fella who makes my strum and them arrange and I do my thing.


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