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By Laura Dowrich-Phillips- Trinidad and Tobago’s pride was evident on Wednesday as Leroy Calliste, the Black Stalin, was celebrated for his life and contribution to the musical landscape of his homeland and the Caribbean.
Born and bred in San Fernando, Stalin was given a farewell befitting the pride his community had for him.
From around 9.30 am, a casket bearing his body paraded through the streets of San Fernando from Guide’s Funeral Home on Coffee Street to the Southern Academy for the Performing Arts (SAPA).
Children from schools along the route – Grant Memorial, St Gabriel’s RC, St Joseph’s Convent, Presentation College, Naparima Boys, ASJA, San Fernando Secondary – waved flags and posters bearing Stalin’s face as the parade passed.
At SAPA where a ceremony was held to celebrate his life, throngs of people attempted to gain entry but were blocked forcing them to take in the proceedings on a big screen in a nearby tent.
Inside the Sundar Popo Auditorium, calypsonians and soca artistes gathered to bid farewell to the “black man”. His longtime friend Roy Cape, Brother Valentino, Scrunter, Chalkdust, Crazy, Machel Montano, Benjai, Iwer George, Terri Lyons, KMC, Leston Paul and TUCO President Ainsley King were among those in attendance.
Also flying in to pay tribute to the late bard were his Bajan counterparts the Mighty Gabby and Ras Iley.
Gabby said he was specially sent by Prime Minister Mia Mottley who had penned a stirring and heartfelt tribute to Stalin when his death was announced.
The ceremony included video tributes from the likes of Kees Dieffenthaller and live tributes from San Fernando MP Faris Al-Rawi who praised the indelible mark of southerners on the country’s culture, National Security Minister Fitzgerald Hinds, Tony Chow Lin On, Ras Kommanda and family friend Abeo Jackson who also doubled as co-host of the proceedings.
Housing and Urban Development Minister Camille Robinson-Regis delivered remarks on behalf of Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley, who had another funeral to attend at the time.
Justice Gillian Lucky had everyone laughing as she recalled her attempts to sing calypso and Stalin’s advice to her to take Buckley’s for her throat. She called for his compositions to be incorporated into the curriculum of every school in T&T.
Former president Anthony Carmona dubbed Stalin the Shakespeare of Calypso and the John the Baptiste of progressive, transformational calypso. Examining Stalin’s body of work, especially those in which he addressed issues of race, Carmona said the calypsonian knew black lives mattered long before it became a clarion call in the US.
Stalin’s daughter Keina Calliste gave the most insight into the man her father was. She spoke about his prowess in the kitchen except when it came to making juice and cooking meat, as he was a strict vegetarian. She said he was a comedian who loved to impersonate others and make people laugh.
Describing him as the people’s messenger, she revealed that Stalin never saw the inside of a polling station and was not a supporter of any political party even though he performed on all platforms during elections.
The funeral service also saw performances from Brother Valentino, 3 Canal, Superblue, Machel Montano, Cro Cro, Steve Jackson, Mista Shak, Lady Adana and Rondell Donawa.
The ceremony ended with all the artistes present taking the stage to sing “Black Man Feeling to Party”.
Stalin was laid to rest at Paradise Cemetery. (Loop News)
Watch here for an earlier tribute to Stalin