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Ice Records

Roaring Lion (1908-1999)


“Don’t kill me because I’ve got the luck, the looks, the wear, and then the pluck/…”
From “Papa Chunks”, by Roaring Lion


“Eddy Grant, my ‘father and son’, may God bless this thing you have started called Ringbang and all your past and future creations.”


The Roaring Lion as quoted within the liner notes included with his Roaring Lion – Viva Le King CD. [( ICE 951002) ©1995 Ice Records Ltd.]


In 1993 the biographer at Ice Records Ltd., identified the distinguished Rafael De Leon, the Roaring Lion, by describing him as “the Dean of Classic Calypso” who was then “eighty-seven years young.” Hence, the seeming paradox that would have inhered in the Lion’s reference to Eddy Grant as his ‘father and son’ in 1995, was ably explicated by that same writer in the following words:

“He [Roaring Lion] has matured the Caribbean art-form, and now basks in reflected glory, as Eddy Grant, the international recording artist and visionary, takes it to the heights in the nineties.”

The Roaring Lion had been one of the founding fathers of classic calypso, which, in turn, would give birth to soca by the early eighties. These two prototypical forms would ultimately become incorporated within the youth-driven, pan-Caribbean mélange of musical forces that was first identified and defined as Ringbang by
Eddy Grant in the mid-nineties.

“For the first time in our history,” Eddy Grant declared of this nascent cultural movement and philosophy, “young people are able to partake both creatively and otherwise.” Grant said this to make a distinction between the stylistically static, tradition-bound classic calypsos that canonised eldership’s monopoly on ‘creativity’ within popular Caribbean musics, whilst excluding the vibrant, iconoclastic innovativeness of ‘de yutes’. In concert with this, the enduring weight of that traditional conservatism which had saturated the compositional approaches being applied to the creation of popular musics, had concomitantly been suppressing that scintillant cross-fertilization of rhythm-centred forms that resonate naturally and exultantly within the heart of the modern Caribbean spirit.

As a first-generation founder of classic calypso, therefore, the Lion can be said to have ‘sired’ that upcoming generation of calypsonians that now includes
Eddy Grant. Yet, as a participant in Ringbang, the Lion’s inheritance quite ironically becomes the mantle passed on to him from ‘Papa’ Grant. His benefactor – this Guyanese philosopher-composer-mentor so wise beyond his years, who is our Eddy Grant – now becomes, at one and the same time, the son of The Dean.

Roaring Lion’s career spanned at least three-quarters of a century. It commenced in 1924 when, as a sixteen-year-old, he entered and sung a humorous parody directed at Trinidad’s shango devotees simply entitled “Shango Cult”, in that island’s Grand Calypso Competition. He was comprehensively encouraged by the warm applause from the audience during the first round. This handsome and personable novice to the entertainment scene therefore returned for the second round. He claimed first prize with his original tune “Send Your Children to The Orphan’s Home”, a composition he was to later record in 1934. The man who had sought out the Lion’s talent for this 1924 competition was Douglas Walter, a.k.a. Lord Walter, the host of the Grand Calypso Competition.

According to Raymond Quevedo (a.k.a. Atilla the Hun) in his seminal and authoritative study Atilla’s Kaiso: a short history of Trinidad calypso, “Rafael De Leon .. reached his greatest height of glory in 1933.” This was the year in which his enduring comradeship with Atilla became transformed into an indomitable professional association in which their unique and original songs were showcased amongst the first calypsos to be recorded between 1933 and 1934. Attilla, as chronicler, goes on to further describe and objectify the nature of this relationship within the same paragraph:

“This association was one of the most important in the history of [calypso] and marked the erection of several milestones in the art. It saw the coming into being of the duet and the drama …” (104)

It was during those years that recognition of that compellingly transcendent talent that was to inspire the Roaring Lion to traverse many lands, first came to the fore. The Lion’s performances within the United States of America, saw the perennially young ‘King of the Stage’ perform at the Village Vanguard and Blue Angel nightclubs, in addition to the Waldorf Astoria. More significantly, his inimitable versatility and charm, in combination with his award-winning music and lyrics, galvanized influential members of the American entertainment world into according The Dean top billing amongst celebrity acts at York’s prestigious Carnegie Hall, and also at the Hollywood Café owned by Rudy Vallee, who was America’s most popular singer, songwriter and radio-show personality during that era..

The Lion was a fluent wordsmith, and this flair for language directed him to the attention of the British monarchy when he penned the song “Three Cheers For The Red, White and Blue”, to commemorate the crowning of King George VI in 1936. They directed regal approbation upon the Lion once more at the time of this ruler’s death in 1952, when he soberly composed the calypso entitled “The Death of King George VI”. And yet once again, in 1952, they were galvanized into acknowledgement of his undeniable command of monarchical themes, when he wrote yet another classic calypso in honour of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.

Lion’s “Welcome Calypso” was written to welcome Pope John Paul II to the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago in 1985. On that occasion Lion was given the honour of presenting the religious leader with an autographed copy of that record, for which he received the Pope’s blessing.

Another highlight of his career was his presentation to Franklin D. Roosevelt, the 32nd President of the United States of America. Within the elegiac remembrance entitled “Roaring Lion’s Eulogy” (www.icerecords.com/foundmen.htm) that was written by Eddy Grant and read at Roaring Lion’s funeral, Eddy Grant gives the following ironic recollection of that meeting which became historic in more ways than one:

It is said that upon being introduced to President Franklin D. Roosevelt and being asked if he was from the Land of the Hummingbird, Lion replied, “no sir from Trinidad, ‘The Land of the Calypso’”, a name it is destined to be called forevermore.

Roaring Lion is best known for such timeless hits as “Mary Ann”, “Fan Me Saga Boy, Fan Me”, “We Come From the Glory”, and “Ugly Woman”. These are classic calypso tunes that dancers around the world cherish.

Produced by Ice Records Ltd. in 1993, Roaring Lion’s CD entitled ROARING LOUD – STANDING PROUD (ICE 930202), represented a collection of 12 of Lion’s best known and most loved songs, recorded under the careful eye of
Eddy Grant at his state-of-the-art Blue Wave Recording Studios in Barbados. The guest artists who appeared on this landmark album included Eddy Grant, David Rudder, and Len ‘Boogsie’ Sharpe on pan. This CD/album was the first ever to be released by the eighty-seven-year-old veteran, since most of his previous recordings were 78s, in addition to his 1985 single in honour of Pope John Paul II.

In 1995, the Roaring Lion engaged in another momentous collaboration with Ice that saw a further 11 of his classic renditions immortalized for all posterity in compact disc format. Those songs run as follows: (1) “Papa Chunks”, (2) “Jail Dem”, (3) “Shango”, (4) “Woopsin Woopsin”, (5) “Man Centipede”, (6) “Ugly Woman”, (7) “Out De Fire”, (8) “All Women Are Beautiful”, (9) “The Highway Code”, (10) “Wash Your Hands”, (11) “Song of Peace”. The title of this CD is, of course, VIVA LE KING.

Truly, The King is not dead!! His father lives! His son lives! And their art tells of his mighty accomplishments! Viva Le King! Long may the Lion continue to reign!!

From The Archives Of Ice Records Ltd.
[Revised by Harold Beckles – November, 2002.]

Compliments of Ice Records


 

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