Calypso Rose - Early Life:
Calypso Rose, whose real name is McArtha Lewis, was born on April 27, 1940 in Bethel, a small, relatively in-land village on the tiny island of Tobago. Her family was musical: her grandfather was a violinist who performed at weddings and celebrations, and her grandmother sang. Lewis lived with her parents and her ten siblings in a two-bedroom house until she was nine years old, at which point she went to live with an aunt and uncle on the neighboring island of Trinidad. As a child, she suffered from a stammer, which apparently still affects her if she gets excited about a conversation.
The Beginnings of a Musical Career:
At the age of fifteen, Lewis boldly began singing calypso music in the calypso contests that would happen during Carnival season. Though she was not the first woman to ever do so, calypso was by and large a man's genre at the time (and, indeed, to this day it remains heavily male-dominated), but she quickly gained the respect of many (though not all) of her fellow calypsonians.
Though Calypso Rose had garnered a number of regional hits throughout the years, including her most famous song, "Fire in me Wire," which she wrote in 1966, she did not win any of the major calypso contests until 1977. That year, she was the first woman ever to win the Trinidad Road March competition, which she won with her song "Tempo." In 1978, she won the National Calypso King competition (which prompted a name change -- it's now the National Calypso Monarch competition) with her songs "I Thank Thee" and "Her Majesty." Also in 1978, she won the Trinidad Road March competition for the second year in a row with "Gimme More Tempo."
Further Awards and Honors:
Winning the prestigious awards in the late 1970s really put Calypso Rose on the map as the undisputed queen of the genre, and she has gone on to make internationally popular records ever since. She's also headlined at major venues and festivals throughout the US, Europe, and Australia. As of 2011, she is the most decorated Calypsonian in Trinidad's history, and was awarded the Trinidad and Tobago Gold Humming Bird Medal, an award given to Trinidadians "for loyal and devoted service beneficial to the state in any field, or acts of gallantry."
Current Status: Performing and Recording:
Calypso Rose moved to Jamaica, Queens in 1983, though returns to Trinidad for Carnival season each year. In 1996, she battled and beat breast cancer. She continues to tour regularly on multiple continents and record music -- at this point, she estimates that she has written well over 800 songs.
'Lioness of the Jungle' - A Documentary Feature Film:
In 2011, a feature-length documentary called 'Calypso Rose: The Lioness of the Jungle' was released at Cannes Film Festival. Directed by Pascale Obolo, it tells Calypso Rose's story through interviews, live concert footage, and more.
Sample/Download Great Calypso Rose Songs:
Calypso Rose's full-length records are, despite her popularity, sometimes hard to get ahold of in the United States. However, in the digital age, we've got access to hundreds of her recordings in MP3 form. Though you can't really go wrong, she is a prolific recording artist and it's hard to know where to start. Here are some of my favorites: