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'Jean and Dinah' turning 50

In July 2004 Keith Smith published ‘Jean and Dinah’ turning 50 “to acclaim not simply the singer [The Mighty Sparrow] but the song”. In this 2006 carnival season, we join in that acclaim to the calypsonian of the century.

Keith Smith
Trinidad Express
Thursday, July 8th 2004

One night, not too long ago, I was reminding Sparrow that less than two years from now, February 2006 to be exact, "Jean and Dinah'' would be all of 50 years old and urging him to celebrate the anniversary in style when he said in his usual ebullient style:

"Let's start getting into it from now!''

Two or three beers later we parted company, so I can't swear to you that the 69th birthday show carded for next weekend at Queen's Hall and put on by Spektakula's Martineau brothers is the first "wave'' in the run-up to the golden anniversary of that jewel of a song, but I remind you that these three men have a knack (remember that whole year of 50th birthday shows?) for carrying on a thing long, long, long.

So Sparrow is 69 and, good behaviour and God willing, set to turn 70 in another year's time and be here, and in good cheer, the year after, to fittingly occupy centrestage as the nation or, at least, the calypso majority, sets out to acclaim not simply the singer but the song.

I don't know if this is your experience but I know some 20 - and, yes, two ten-year-olds, who are able to sing at least the "Jean and Dinah'' chorus, with one of the 20-year-olds able to sing the whole song, the question in my mind being which calypso sung this year will be remembered 50 years from now, 20- and ten-year-olds then singing of what from now?

Not, of course, that I am writing off the whole of the last decade or two, 2000 marking 20 years since the advent of Blueboy, some of whose songs, notably "Soca Baptist'', seem sure to last, and 2006 marking 20 years since the arrival of Rudder, some of whose songs, notably "Rally 'Round the West Indies'', inevitably will prevail - but, I ask you, for all its zest, Machel's "Craziness''? For all its creative twists, Destra's "Bonnie and Clyde''? For all its aptness, Winchester's "Look the Band Coming''? But, perhaps, I am being unfair and comparing apples and oranges (small, quaily-quaily ones to boot) since the day following the night Sparrow sang "Jean and Dinah'' on that Savannah stage, calypso was never to be the same again, Sparrow remembering:

"I can see it as if it happening now. I got up there the night and I started to sing, the crowd, man, the crowd. From the first verse the stands were in an uproar...'', and the good Dr Rohlehr, (Gordon, of course) writing for history (Calypso and Society in Pre-Independence Trinidad) that the topic (the Yankee withdrawal) "had been explored ad nauseam in the post-1945 period by Kitchener, Invader, Lion, Growler, Beginner and others. It was therefore remarkable that Sparrow was able to resuscitate it ten years later. It may be that the bitterness evoked by the presence of American soldiers as wealthier competitors in the skin-trade had outlasted them by a decade. It is, however, more likely that the calypso made its impact through the personality of Sparrow: his youth, vigour, confidence and the sense that he represented the newness of the time...Another reason for the popularity of "Jean and Dinah'' was the vitality and biting cynicism with which Sparrow was able to invest a worn-out theme. Consider the final stanza:

It's the glamour boys again

We are going to rule Port of  Spain

No more Yankees to spoil the fete

Dorothy have to take what she get

All of them who used to make style

Taking their two shillings with a smile

No more hotel and Simmons  bed

By the sweat of thy brow shall thou eat bread.....

Simmons bed! Sparrow? Lord boy, buh we real old in truth and look how when I first met you in the flesh I was 18 and you was already 29 and look how both ah we get old together. Still, I suppose we have to be thankful, so many of my young friends swearing none of them reaching we age and like they setting out to prove it too (just the odder day mih namesake Keith (better known as "Tights'' son) ending up with a bullet in he brains in Prizgarhe and a nex' one). So see me in Queen's Hall, Saturday after the next, not only celebrating that 69th birthday (Remember "the number is 69''-hee-hee-hee-and how then we used to snigger at what used to be in the dark but look how now dem boys boasting loud about that in the light, 60 million Frenchmen turning out not to be wrong in truth) and the 50 years since you start singing in '54 but beginning to celebrate early 50 years of "Jean and Dinah'', hoping, God and good behaviour willing, that we'll be here when that time really reach.


See also:
Essential Sparrow


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