In 1981, veteran calypsonian, Romeo won the Pic-O-De-Crop contest with a classic calypso titled, Gem Gone.
The sobriety of the song was relived today at the Breath of Life Seventh Day Adventist Church where hundreds gathered to say their final farewell to a Barbadian Kaiso gem.
Laughter, sobbing and joyous music echoed throughout the packed White Hill, St Michael church as they celebrated the life of Charles Irvington Romeo Smith.
The former calypso monarch, who was known for his dapper suits and dramatic stage performances, entered the calypso arena in 1963. He won his first Pic-O-De-Crop title in 1981, gaining much fame with the songs Brother Fuzzy and Gem Gone.
However, on June 6, the local entertainment fraternity was shaken to its core with the news that the 70-year-old Romeo had died after years of health challenges.
In 2005 he was told he would never walk again following a bacterial viral infection and spinal surgery, but he continued to perform up until 2008 when he finally retired after 45 years in the business.
The church was brimming with people as calypso veterans and pioneers came out to pay their respects.
The likes of Anthony Gabby Carter, Richard Stoute, Mike Sealy, Sir Don Marshall, Shirley Stewart, Macdonald Grynner Blenman, Mac Fingall, Stedson Red Plastic Bag Wiltshire, Donella and Ian Webster were in attendance.
Also present were former calypsonian and Minister of Creative Economy, Culture and Sports John King, former parliamentarian Stephen Lashley, Maxine McClean and Cranston Brown, the chief executive officer of the National Cultural Foundation (NCF).
There was no lack of music and applause as artistes and musicians from every genre came to pay their respects.
Calypsonian Anderson Blood Armstrong described Romeo as a mentor and a friend who eventually became a fan. He sang Born Free in honour of the free-spirited and jovial entertainer who did not hesitate to pass on words of wisdom.
During an emotional tribute Gabby told the congregation that “Romey took a big part of my heart with him when he went on”.
The two shared a 59-year friendship that began at the St Leonard’s Boys’ School, where their schoolmates included Richard Stoute, Desmond Weekes and Darcy Beckles.
Gabby said Romeo was responsible for his decision to enter the calypso arena in 1965.
“We must have been so crazy or bold and brave,” the former monarch said.
During his poem, Gabby said Romeo had refused to be defeated by his illness and remained cheerful throughout the ordeal.
The cultural ambassador soulfully performed Well Done as he solemnly remembered Romeo’s kindred spirit.
Meanwhile, Browne remembered Romeo as “an unassuming giant” who was humble, fun and approachable “with a presence that was personified by a huge smile and a witty sense of humour”.
“Even when he was in pain he commented about feeling fortunate and blessed and displayed an attitude that has taught many to appreciate their own blessings and to appreciate life,” he added.
Browne recalled Romeo’s passion for developing calypso and nurturing the future generation of artistes.
“He was particularly interested in the young calypsonians entering the industry and from a distance he admired the development of the Junior Monarch programme, for in it he also saw a representation of the future of the calypso art form,” the NCF boss said.
Meantime, King also expressed his sadness at the loss of one of the island’s top musical pioneers. While describing the fallen former monarch as one of the toughest competitors out of Battleground Tent, King recalled how Romeo became a spokesperson for calypsonians.
“He was always there to lend support even if it was battles against the NCF . . . if it was battles for better wages, better conditions, whatever it was that was for the improvement of the art form and the artistes themselves, Charles Romeo Smith was in the forefront of it and he was never one of those persons who would back down,” the newly-appointed minister said.
“Let us make a pact, solemn vow, that not only the work of Romeo but the life and times of Romeo will forever be etched in our minds and hearts by . . . CBC and other places to document his life and his work,” King stressed.
These sentiments were shared by Lashley who added: “His work needs to be chronicled so that generations to come can remember the contribution that this giant of a calypsonian would have played in the development of calypso.”
During the eulogy, close friend and colleague, Mike Sealy, spoke about Romeo the calysponian and the husband of Cecily Smith. Sealy commented that the adoring couple was a tough act to follow.
When Romeo was diagnosed with his illness, Cecily checked herself into the hospital to stay by her husband’s side, he said, while recalling that Romeo often boasted about his wife of 48 years.
“He would say to me ‘my wife is so beautiful,’” Sealy said.