The Mighty Sparrow was born Slinger Francisco on July 9, 1935, in Grand Roy, Grenada, West Indies. “Sparrow” is a calypso singer, songwriter, and guitarist known as the “Calypso King of the World”. He has won Trinidad’s Carnival Road March competition eight times and has been named “Calypso Monarch” eleven times. Sparrow was born in Grenada on July 9, 1935, but moved to Trinidad when he was one year old. His birth name is Slinger Francisco. He grew up in Port of Spain.
He received his performing name “The Mighty Sparrow” during his early career, “Your calypso name is given to you by your peers, based on your style. In the old days they tried to emulate British royalty. There was Lord Kitchener, Lord Nelson, Duke. When I started singing, the bands were still using acoustic instruments and the singers would stand flat footed, making a point or accusing someone in the crowd with the pointing of a finger, but mostly they stood motionless. When I sing, I get excited and move around, much like James Brown, and this was new to them. The older singers said “Why don’t you just sing instead of moving around like a little Sparrow.” It was said as a joke, but the name stuck”.
He may be an old bird, but don’t consider this Calypso singer a musical lame duck. More than 50 years after his first song he is still flying high.
The Jamaica, Queens, resident released a two-disc anthology of his music on May 17 and received a proclamation from the City Council for his contributions to world music. “I got into the business because of my love of the music – I had a story to tell,” said Francisco, 75. Francisco made a name for himself during the Calypso craze led by Harry Belafonte in the 1950s. He said he realized he arrived as an artist when Sam Cooke and Nat King Cole each visited his house in Trinidad, which he refers to as “the sparrow’s nest.”
But he finally perched in Queens because of the proximity to two major airports that makes traveling to the Caribbean a breeze, he said “You should see my passport – I’ve gotta change it every few years,” he joked. City Councilman James Sanders, who presented the proclamation to the musician, said the fact that Francisco resides in Queens “speaks volumes.” He called The Mighty Sparrow one of the most prolific song writers of all time. “We have an incredible amount of pride that the Sparrow can settle here, build a nest here and have an impact on the world,” said Sanders (D-Laurelton). Richard David, executive director of the Ozone Park-based Indo-Caribbean Alliance, said Francisco helped make Calypso music mainstream. “People would not dispute that he’s still the legend of Calypso music. He’s beloved,” he said.
But the current landscape of Caribbean music is a rude crash landing for The Mighty Sparrow. Current artists don’t bother with clever, biting lyrics or complex melodies, he said, instead choosing to focus on “pushing buttons.”
“You shouldn’t be afraid to say something political. You’ve gotta hit hard, you’ve gotta come out with something that means a little more to the society,” he said. While The Mighty Sparrow may not be able to do all the gyrations and movements that spawned his quirky stage name, he can still croon with his silky, smooth voice that made him a musical counterpart of Bob Marley. “I know there’s a time for retirement and I only hope I am able to fight it off. I’m still moving. I’m not ready to put a stop on my career,” he said.
Check out the video of Dr. Slinger Francisco aka The Might Sparrow at his recent album release at J&R, NYC and his receiving his New York City Proclamation: