Written by Michelle Lee
Kelvin Pope”In our sadness, we can ease our pain by associating Kelvin Pope with that Shakespearean quote: “His life was gentle, and elements so mixed in him that nature might stand up and say to the world: this was a man.”…………….Hollis “Chalkdust” Liverpool.
Calypso lovers the world over joined Trinidadians as they mourned the passing of Kelvin Pope – The Mighty Duke. After a four-year battle with myelofibrosia – a bone marrow disorder that disrupts the body’s normal production of blood cells – Duke died January 14, 2009 at the age of 76.
Duke was born in Point Fortin, Trinidad, to Ernest and Hilda Pope (now deceased), who were from St. Vincent. Growing up in Point Fortin gave the young Kelvin a great mix of Trinidad & Tobago humor and values and those of the foreign workers who settled there to work in the oil industry. The collision of the two factions provided a springboard for Duke’s eventual Calypso career.
After successfully competing in South Trinidad, he left Point Fortin in 1964 for the capitol Port of Spain to sing professionally. His style on and off the stage was unmatched as he combined humor and double entendre in his well constructed lyrics that dealt with social and cultural issues – calypsos that could make the masses laugh while at the same time impress the judges in competitions. Many calypsonians used exaggerated antics and themes dealing with sex but Duke always remained regal and dignified in his presentations and in his impeccable, albeit sometimes flashy, clothes.
He is the only person in the history of T&T calypso to win the Calypso Monarch title four consecutive years from 1968 “What is Calypso” and “Social Bacchanal”, “Black is Beautiful” and “One Foot Visina” in 1969, “Brotherhood of Man” and “See Through”, 1970 and “Mathematical Formula” and “Melvie and Yvonne” in 1971. He remained a force over the years and fans clamored to see him perform in the Calypso tents of Trinidad and on tour. In 1987 he captured the Soca scene winning the Road March with “Thunder”.
Among his many awards is the National Hummingbird Medal he received in 1970; the 1987 Sunshine Wards Best Social Commentary Award for his composition “How Many More Must Die” which addressed colonialism and apartheid in Africa; and he was inducted into the Sunshine Awards Hall of Fame in 2006.
Duke was given “a true Kaiso send-off” on January 22nd at Coronation Park in Point Fortin. The Eulogy was given by friend and calyosonian Chalkdust (Hollis Liverpool). In his remarks Chalkdust said ” … there was no Calypsonian who sang more songs about Africa than Duke as he sought to bring the African Diaspora closer together, to make Africans see themselves beyond the gates of the Slave Trade and to build a bridge towards victory over colonialism, Apartheid and Eurocentrism.”
Following the eulogy many other tributes – mostly in the form of Calypso were presented including several Duke compositions and those sung in his honor: Among the performers were: Relator (Willard Harris), Luta, Singing Sandra, Crazy, Bally, Gabby, Gypsy and Superblue (Austin Lyons). Also attending the send off were: Culture Minister Marlene Mc Donald, Olympian Gold Medal winner Hasely Crawford, a large representation from the Calypso fraternity and the general public. After the formal ceremony, Flagman Peter Diaz led a long procession of mourners through the streets of the town, accompanied by steelband music, to the Point Fortin Cemetery and the Mighty Duke’s final resting place.
Duke is survived by his wife Rebecca, sons Wendall, Kurt and Ossasie, daughter Makeda, several grandchildren, other relatives and many friends.