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Lord Kitchener aka Aldwyn Roberts
Road March tunes (10 times)
Panorama tunes (18 times)
Lord Kitchener ("Kitch" for short), the Grandmaster, was born April 18, 1922, as Aldwyn Roberts in Arima, Trinidad and Tobago, into a family of six. His father was a successful blacksmith in Arima. Kitch attended the Arima Boys Government School between the ages of 5 and 14, when he was forced to leave school following the death of his parents. He started composing calypso’s at the tender age of 10. He also learnt to play the guitar. As a young man, Kitch was so thin and tall, 6 ft. 2 ins., that his sister nicknamed him "Bean" (remember Jack and the Beanstalk?).
His first job as a singer was in 1936, when he was hired to serenade the employees of the Water Works. He got his first break in 1937 while he was performing in a calypso tent in Arima. In 1938, he ventured into the realm of big time calypso, and in 1939, he produced a hit called "Shops Close Too Early". In 1942, he joined the Roving Brigade, a traveling group of young calypsonians who appeared at cinema houses in different districts in T&T. Kitch was making one of these appearances when Johnny Khan, the manager of a calypso tent, spotted Kitch and recruited Kitch for his first professional tent appearance. He appeared at the Victory Calypso Tent on Edward Street with some of the great calypsonians of the day, such as Tiger, Roaring Lion, Atilla the Hun, Destroyer, Pretender, Caressa and Iere. His song then was "Green Fig". It became a hit. In those days, Kitch was paid a dollar per night. From then, Kitch blossomed into a major force in the world of calypso, destroying all challengers year after year with his incredible wit, humor, and lasting melody.
In 1938, Kitch won the first prize in a calypso competition organized by the Arima Borough Council. He held the title until 1942. At the outbreak of World War II, Carnival in T&T was stopped until 1944. However, the calypso tents were kept opened. It was around 1944 that a friend, Alric Farrell (one of the Giants of Calypso of those days better known as Pretender) persuaded Kitch to turn professional and join the great calypsonians of those days in Port of Spain. Beginner, Destroyer, Growling Tiger, Atilla the Hun, Executor, Invader, Growler, and Roaring Lion were some of the names of that time. Apparently, Kitch followed Pretender's advice. He came to Port of Spain, and sang a calypso he called "Mary, I am Tired and Disgusted", before the critical and exacting calypso lovers of Port of Spain. That calypso took Port of Spain by storm. Realizing the talent of the young calypsonian, The Growling Tiger christened the "Bean" "Lord Kitchener". In 1945, Kitch scored again in Port of Spain with "I am a Worrier".
However, it was not until 1946 that he had his first big success. He had a hat trick consisting of "Tie Tongue Mopsy", "Chinese Never Had a VJ Day", and "Jump In the Line". By then, he had achieved enough stature as a calypsonian to open his own tent. The first full year of the tent was 1947. Kitch called it the "Young Brigade". Some of the calypsonians in the tent were Lord Zigfield, Melody, Mighty Killer, Sir Galba, Spoiler, and Viking. Their only competition was another tent, organized by the Roaring Lion and Atilla, staffed with some of the Calypso giants of those days. This is how Kitchener remembered the opening night:
"It was 8:00 p.m. It was the first opening night of both tents. We were all nervous, fearing that we may begin with an empty tent, but it was just the opposite. Lion and Atilla's tent was empty, and we were sold out".
In 1947, Kitch was proclaimed the best calypsonian of the year. His big tunes for that year were "Scandal in St. Ann's", "Mount Olga", and "Tie Tongue Mopsy". Soon after the success of 1947, Kitch left T&T, Arub and then on to Jamaica. This is he lived for six months, teaching calypso and playing to packed audiences. After Jamaica, the next stop was London. Kitch arrived on a boat, the MV Windrush, at the port city of Tilbury on June 21, 1948. One of the other passengers on that MV Windrush was Egbert Moore (Lord Beginner). Kitch got an immediate booking at the only West Indian club in London, following his debut on the BBC. Six months later, Kitch was appearing in three clubs nightly, and his popularity extended beyond the West Indian and African night club audiences, to include music hall and variety show audiences.
The days in London were very good days for Kitch. He had everything he wanted. Lots of money, fan mail from all over the world, clothes, fancy hats and shoes, and lots of lady friends. Nevertheless, the nightlife was getting the better of Kitch. Therefore, he decided to slow down and leave London. He moved to Manchester in the north of England. There he met and married in 1953 his English wife, Marjorie. He had a son by this marriage. Kitch also started writing calypso’s again in 1953 and in that year he wrote "Africa My Home", "Beware Tokyo", and "If You Not White, You Considered Black". Soon Kitch opened his own nightclub in Manchester, and also received a six month contract to tour the U.S. where he appeared in New York, Washington D.C., and other cities on the East Coast. Kitch returned to England after that tour, and in 1958, he made his first of several recordings for the Melodisc record label. The days in Manchester were even more successful for Kitch than his days in London. He became the proprietor of two-apartment buildings, expanded his nightclub, and formed a dance band. Even during the 17 years Kitch was away from T&T, he sent back great calypso tunes, which became very popular. Tunes like "Mama Look The Band Passing", "Nora, Nora, Nora", "Trouble In Arima", belong to this period.
Thus, when fellow calypsonians were tempted to relax, feeling that Kitchener's success abroad, combined with his involvement in clubs, business, and real estate, had removed Kitch from the scene, they soon discovered the error of their thinking. Kitch made sure that even while he was abroad, he had revelers in T&T jumping with one after another of his creations on carnival days, leaving the "stay at homes" in the wilderness.
Andrew Marcano, Calypsonian Brother Superior, once observed that every one in T&T; grew up listening to Kitch. However, Kitch is more than a T&T hero. He is indeed a Caribbean institution and genius who uses wry, saucy lyrics to describe events, personal problems, human frailties and political issues, with equal irony and wit. Over the years, his genius has appealed to commoners and royalty alike. US President Harry S. Truman himself led the applause for Kitchener's "Green Fig", and Princess Margaret reportedly purchased no less than 100 copies of the immortal 1952 release:
"Kitch, come go to bed
In 1963, when word came that Kitch was returning to T&T for the 1963 carnival season, many of the highflying "modern" calypsonians began quaking in their shoes, and rightly so. Kitch, as usual, had something "hot" for the road and the tents. Although some of his detractors felt that Kitch "done old already". He won the road march tune honors that year.
1963 - The Road
Kitch was also identified as the greatest composer of tunes for pan (the steel drum). In 1975 alone, his tune "Tribute to Spree Simon" dominated Panorama. Steelband groups playing that tune (Hatters, Fonclaire, and Carib Tokyo) won the top three positions. In addition, his compositions won many Panorama titles:
1964 - Mama, Dis is Mas
Kitch composed calypso’s that cover every imaginable human experience, and social and political events. Kitch was a brilliant expressionist. On stage his gestures, innuendoes, his control of voice and his capability to paint a picture with his voice clear enough for the very last person in the audience to "see", and understand, what Kitch was talking about. This made him one of the great personalities in the highly competitive business of authentic calypso singing. Dr. Hollis Liverpool (Calypsonian Chalkdust) once observed that "one of Kitchener's many strengths is his ability to present clean smut' in a way that even a priest would want to listen".
Kitch had many admirers in T&T. But he also had quite a few detractors. For example, in 1993, a large number of citizens signed petitions urging the government of T&T; to award Kitch the highest civilian award, The Trinity Cross, in recognition of his accomplishments. For some reason, the Awards Committee denied the petitions for The Trinity Cross, and decided to give Kitch a lesser award. After consultation with his advisors and fans, Kitch decided not to accept the lesser award. His name was also once proposed to the University of the West Indies for an Honorary Doctorate. That too was denied him.
The first day of Black History Month, February 1st 2000, there were rumors that Kitch had died. We later learned that he had not died, but had been admitted to the Intensive Care Unit of the best hospital in T&T. However, on February 11, the hospital issued this press release:
"The Central Regional Health Authority wishes to announce that Mr. Aldwyn Roberts, Lord Kitchener died at 10:45 am this morning. Yesterday, his condition began to deteriorate, and this morning despite antibiotics and resuscitative measures he succumbed due to severe infection related to his disease.
Despite the best efforts of our doctors, he passed away this morning. The entire CRHA staff joins the family and nation in mourning the loss of this national treasure".
(Signed) Dr Lesley Ann Roberts, Ag General Manager, Secondary and Tertiary Health Care
One must note that in the year of his death, and for the first time in many years, no steelband group chose to play a Kitchener tune during Panorama. The major reason being that Kitchener released his tunes too late to be considered. However, all the Panorama tunes bore shades of Kitchener's fingerprints. In addition, the majority of the finalists for the 2000 Calypso Monarch competition were attached to Kitchener Calypso Revue. What a fitting tribute!