The sudden death of legendary calypsonian and prominent business executive, Sir Don – real name Don Jose Lamont Marshall – has plunged the entertainment community into a state of mourning and shock.
Calypso lovers and artistes were jolted Thursday morning as they awoke to the news that the lyrical icon had died in his sleep overnight.
The veteran performer and impresario is being remembered for a gift of language and dry wit as an extremely talented writer, composer, recording artiste, calypso analyst and Crop Over Stalwart awardee.
He first catapulted into the limelight at the age of 24 in 1963 with his tunes Tax Dodgers and 20th Century Husbands which earned him the Calypso Monarch title in the then Barbados Carnival. He went on to be a four-time calypso king before his last on-stage performance in 1981.
A profound presence in the calypso arena, Sir Don devoted more than 50 years of his life to mentoring and sharing his talent with the likes of Romeo, Dr Anthony Mighty Gabby Carter, Colin Spencer and the reigning Pic-O-De-Crop monarch Anderson Mr Blood Armstrong. He penned calypsos for several veteran and junior calypsonians over the years and acted as a judge of the Pic-O-De-Crop competition and Richard Stoute Teen Talent Contest.
In an interview with Barbados TODAY, Gabby declared Sir Don as “the real calypso king”, “a musical giant” who held the art of kaiso in high esteem. Gabby said that he first met Sir Don in 1965 when he started competing in calypso at the age of 17.
“He was teaching us how to stand up for standards and quality. All back then he was showing you that you have to respect the art form because back then nobody was respecting the art form,” Gabby recalled.
“Don always talked about quality, how to dress well, speak well, look well, have manners, don’t walk about and get drunk. He said ‘They don’t have no choice but to respect you,when you respect yourself’ and that is lesson he gave me – it was a lifelong lesson,” the cultural ambassador added.
Sir Don was revered for his entrancing storytelling capabilities, cleverly weaving words into humourous lyrics. Gabby praised his lyrical prowess, describing it as one of a kind.
“His style of writing was always about wit and humour. His way of telling a story was unique, different, it was bright, it was special. It had an indelible mark.
“Nobody can question Don’s ability to write and his ability to understand calypso,” Gabby commented.
Sir Don’s love for calypso was a reflection of his father’s Trinidadian influence. Gabby told Barbados TODAY of Sir Don’s private collection of calypso recordings which was huge and dated back to the 1920’s. He was also a huge fan of Trinidad’s Mighty Spoiler who he imitated during the early years of his career.
“Spoiler was the person he admired most because Spoiler was so clever and so brilliant at writing humorous songs,” Gabby recalled.
Mr Blood was struggling to come to grips with Sir Don’s death when Barbados TODAY contacted him. For nearly a decade, the lyrical mastermind was the pen behind some of Mr Blood’s songs.
“When I first met him I can remember thinking to myself, ‘I have the legend Sir Don in my living room, offering me a song’. We have worked together every year since then. Even when I opted to take songs from someone else he was always there to offer advice. He never gave up on that goal we had of me winning the crown,” Mr Blood revealed.
Mr Blood referred to his mentor as “a happy spirit that you could not help but to love”. He also reminisced about how Sir Don started referring to him as King Blood years before he won the Calypso Monarch. He was speaking their dreams into existence. “My heart is heavy and I try to hold back the tears. . . I will miss him dearly,” Mr Blood continued.
Barbados Ambassador to CARICOM, David Comissiong also praised Sir Don for his contributions to the local calypso scene and the development of island’s young creative talent. Comissiong shared that Sir Don was a familiar face during the Crop Over Festival and the Richard Stoute Teen Talent competition having acted as a judge and a composer.
“Without a doubt, Sir Don lived a life of great integrity, purpose and meaning, and made a deep and lasting contribution to the development of his nation and fellow citizens.
It is now up to us to ensure that we add additional value and meaning to the life of this extraordinary Barbadian by embracing the wonderful artform of Bajan calypso and positively building upon the brilliant creative foundation that Sir Don did so much to construct for this artform that he loved so much,” said Ambassador Comissiong.
The National Cultural Foundation (NCF) issued a statement of condolences to Marshall’s wife and children. The NCF also remembered Sir Don for his sartorial elegance and his boasts about the talents of his longtime tailor in Bridgetown.
“He put great store on appearance and presentation and was often sought for advice and guidance by the younger members of the entertainment fraternity.
“His charm and wit were legendary and he would deliver the most hilarious of quips with nothing more than a quiet chuckle while the others were bent over with laughter. He was a man of deep and abiding faith who loved life and his country, his family, calypso and the Combermere School in particular,” the NCF statement said.