Renowned calypsonian Black Stalin (Leroy Calliste) has died. The octogenarian passed away at his San Fernando home on 28 December. He is survived by his wife and five children.
Stalin recently spent three weeks at San Fernando General Hospital. A stroke in September 2014 left him in poor health, which prevented him from attending the renaming of Lord Street, in his hometown, to Dr Leroy Calliste Street last year.
Confirming the news of his passing, Stalin’s wife Patsy said:
I know he gave [his fans] a lot of joy, a lot of love, a lot of rhythms and a lot of lyrics. I know he has a lot of people out there who love him very much.
Born on 24 September 1941 and brought up in Coffee Street, he attended San Fernando Boys RC School. His first venture into entertainment was as a limbo dancer, but in 1959, inspired by Pretender and Kitchener, he started singing calypso, joining the Southern Brigade tent three years later. It was calypsonian Blakie who gave Calliste his sobriquet, so it was as Black Stalin that he joined Lord Kitchener’s Calypso Revue tent in 1967.
Stalin was known for using his skills to address political and social injustices through music and in Bun Dem he famously asked Saint Peter to consign the likes of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan to the fires of Hell. He’ll also be long remembered for songs such as Sufferers, Ism Schism, Wait Dorothy Wait, Black Man Feelin to Party and We Could Make it if We Try.
His collection of albums includes To the Caribbean Man (1979), Cry of the Caribbean (1992) and Just For You (2009).
In the course of his career – which spanned 63 of his 81 years – Stalin was a five-time calypso monarch (in 1979, 1985, 1987, 1991 and 1995) and secured the Calypso King of the World title in 1999. He has performed in the UK on several occasions, including, memorably, at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden in August 2002, and at a special event in October 2005 to celebrate Mighty Tiger’s 50 years in calypso.
In 1987 Black Stalin was awarded the Hummingbird Medal (Silver) for his contribution to the culture of Trinidad and Tobago. He received an honorary Doctor of Letters (DLitt) from the University of the West Indies in 2008 for his positive impact on calypso music and culture.
Although a fierce critic of injustice, Black Stalin’s abiding message was one of optimism, as expressed in these few lines from We Can Make it if we Try:
If ever you feel to surrender, it have one little thing
That I always want you to remember
We could make it if we try just a little harder
If we just give one more try, life could be so much sweeter.