One of the most prolific Calypsonians Trinidad & Tobago has produced is Calypso Rose who is still performing to enormous acclaim at 77.
She started writing songs at 15 and in a long, celebrated career has composed more than 800 songs and recorded more than 20 albums.
Born in Bethel Village, Tobago, she now resides in Queens, New York, and likes to return to her homeland several times a year to “revitalize herself” and “get back to her African roots in Tobago”.
Calypso Rose, born Linda McCartha Monica Sandy-Lewis, was a preacher’s daughter. Her father was a leader of the Spiritual Shouter Baptists. He was a violinist and her grandmother was a singer. Amazingly, as a child, she suffered from a stammer, which apparently still affects her if she gets excited in conversation.
Her family was very traditional and opposed her singing in Carnival tents. Nevertheless, she composed her first calypso in 1955 after seeing a man steal the show from two women performing on stage. It was the earliest calypso written on gender inequality.
She built up her career in her homeland before travelling outside of Trinidad & Tobago for the first time in 1963, performing from Grenada to St. Thomas. She won the Calypso King contest in St. Thomas with her first recording, ‘Cooperation’. This was the first time a woman had ever been awarded the title.
In 1964, she decided to dedicate her life to a career in music, which was not easy considering the industry then was male-dominated. Though originally known as Crusoe Kid, she was given the name Calypso Rose by calypsonian Mighty Spoiler and fellow Carnival tent members.
She performed with Bob Marley & the Wailers at the Grand Ballroom in New York City in 1967.
Though Rose had garnered many regional hits throughout the years, including her most famous song, ‘Fire in Me Wire’, which she wrote in 1966, she did not win any of the major calypso contests until 1977. That year, she was the first woman ever to win the Trinidad Road March competition, which she won with ‘Tempo’. In 1978, she won the National Calypso King competition (which prompted a name change to National Calypso Monarch competition) with her songs ‘I Thank Thee’ and ‘Her Majesty’. Also in 1978, she won the Trinidad Road March competition for the second year in a row with ‘Gimme More Tempo’.
Winning the prestigious awards in the late 1970s really put Calypso Rose on the map as the undisputed queen of the genre, and she has gone on to make internationally popular records ever since. She's also headlined at major venues and festivals all over the world.
Rose moved permanently to New York in 1983. In October 1996, she underwent surgery for breast cancer and in 1998 undertook therapy for a malignancy in her stomach.
She was the subject of a documentary Calypso Rose, Lioness in the Jungle in 2011. She is one of the most decorated Calypsonians in Trinidad history. In 2011, she was awarded the Trinidad and Tobago Gold Humming Bird Medal, "for loyal and devoted service beneficial to the state in any field, or acts of gallantry."
In 2015 French singer Manu Chao discovered her work and decided to help with the production of her new album, in which he is featured on three songs. A compilation, Calypso Soundsystem feat. Calypso Rose, Queen of Calypso for 40 years! was released on the Because Music label in 2016. Rose released her album, Far from Home, in June 2016 and won the 2017 World Music Album of the Year prize at French music award ceremony Les Victoires de la Musique. In 2017 the album was awarded platinum sale status in France, a first for any artist from Trinidad and Tobago.