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Lord Pretender of Trinidad and Tobago

Lord Pretender

‘Preedie’ dies in his sleep


ALRIC FARRELL, better known by his calypso sobriquet Pretender, died in his sleep Tuesday night, after battling with a combination of serious illnesses for some time. “Preedie”, as he was fondly called by fellow calypsonians and close friends, was, at 85, said to be the oldest calypsonian alive. A horse-racing enthusiast, he had been a lifelong friend of the late Grandmaster Kitchener, with whom he shared that passion for the track. He began singing calypso at age 12, ironically with an ode to a young girl whom he promised to meet on resurrection day, a song he sang at the Redhead Sailor calypso tent.

This was his debut in 1929 and he remained onstage until the early nineties when cancer of the throat conspired with other illnesses to render him quiet. Recollecting that his parents often considered him a blemish on the family for singing calypso, Farrell was equally determined to succeed at the art. Titling himself The Pretender (during a game of marbles with the agreed expert in the district), he continued regardless. Even in the winter of his years, Pretender maintained his slim necktie, suspicious glances, overall decency and a peculiar use of his fedora onstage.

At the end of each sung chorus, he would cock the hat backward then, as the band played its interlude, move it closer and closer to horizontal before lifting it altogether and placing it squarely on his head just in time for the next verse. If anyone, Preddie was in the premier position to comment on calypso. He had been onstage at the first calypso competition in 1939, running third to Growling Tiger. He had sung alongside the greats of the art’s golden years, there in the first calypso competition of 1939, coming in third to Atilla and Kitchener in the 1946 national contest, singing well before the end of World War II a song about the possibility of a West Indies Federation.

In 1954 he rubbed shoulders on the Dimanche Gras stage with The Mighty Spoiler, Sa Galba, Panther, Lord Melody and Warlord Blakie and, in the following year, with an equally powerful field of contestants, finished seventh with the song “Why BG Will Not See Royalty.” When the phenomenal rise and consequent win of the 1956 general election by the People’s National Movement (PNM) party dominated calypso lyrics of the following year, Pretender sung an unrelated ditty at the 1957 final. Based on the ballad “Que Sera Sera” (from which it got its name), the calypso used the song’s chorus to win for him the only national calypso title in a career that spanned more than 60 years. In 1961 he was in the final once again, forced this time to bow to the Mighty Dougla.

1969 was his last time as a contestant on the Dimanche Gras stage, passing the baton as it were to newcomers Black Stalin, Young Creole, The Mighty Power, Psycho and Chalkdust. Duke, who in the year previous had begun what turned into a beaver-trick, ran off with the crown. He won the first national extempo crown in 1973, one year after receiving the Public Service Medal of Merit Silver for calypso and became the benchmark in that genre. In 1994 he was awarded the Humming Bird Medal (Gold) for his contribution to Trinidad and Tobago’s culture. His hallmark song “Never Ever Worry” was first recorded in 1961 and more recently redone as a duet with Brother Resistance.

Yesterday, speaking for the Trinbago Unified Calypsonians Organisation (TUCO), of which he is general secretary, Resistance said: “Pretender was one of the legends of calypso and a supreme master in the art of extempo. Trinidad and Tobago has lost a cultural icon. His exploits and achievements will for a long time form part of our cultural legacy as well as our national history.” In his turn at extending condolences to Pretender’s family, National Carnival Commission chairman Kenny de Silva said: “The passing of Pretender is a great and substantial loss. He would frequent the racing pool next door to my downtown store and invariably come up with a couple of extempo lines on me, my staff or the business place. We had become close personal friends in the latter years as we shared the common love for horseracing. I am sure I speak for us all in the Carnival sphere when I say we shall miss him.”


A fighter till the end

HE HAD been practising his singing, trying to get his voice back. He even used honey and Paregoric Cough Syrup to help clear his lungs and, just last week, he had spoken jovially about going back to the calypso tent. But Alric Farrell, known to the calypso world as Lord Pretender, passed away quietly in his sleep Tuesday night. His caregiver, Felicia Layne, said yesterday Farrell had suffered from a number of complications since he was last hospitalised in September 2001, including circulatory problems, arthritis and even some prostate ailments. In spite of all these ailments, Layne said on “his good days” he would take walks around his Nelson Street neighbourhood in Port of Spain. “He was a quiet man, who kept to himself and could be miserable at times,” said Layne. “But yesterday (Tuesday), he was a darling; he was nice all day.” Layne said that Farrell often sang his hit song, “Never Ever Worry” and had never talked about the possibility of his death as “he believed he had many more years to go”. As the news of his death spread yesterday, fellow calypsonians and other artistes he had befriended flocked to his NHA apartment on Nelson Street and his phone rang off the hook as people offered their sympathies. —Nigel Telesford


Preddie passes on

By Wayne Bowman

Veteran calypsonian Lord Pretender died yesterday while asleep at home, Nelson Street, Port-of-Spain. He was 84.His nurse found the body lying in bed with a peaceful statement on the face. Trinbago Unified Calypsonians' Organisation (TUCO) secretary, Lutalo "Brother Resistance" Masimba, said a decision is expected today on funeral and memorial services. Pretender's real name was Alric Farrell. He was affectionately called "Preddie". He was hailed in the calypso fraternity as the Extempo Grandmaster. Resistance said, "I was amazed at how this man could just compose on the spot." In recent years, Pretender also had surgery for prostate cancer and had to have his lungs treated. For the past two years he suffered with a throat ailment that left him speaking in a whisper. Last September, Pretender was warded at the Port-of-Spain General Hospital for a back injury which he sustained after a fall. It was then realised he was also suffering from an ulcerated stomach and low blood count.

Due to his ailments, he was not able to attend the calypso tents this year. Calypsonian Denyse Plummer said yesterday: "One of my regrets was that I was planning (but unable) to take him to the tents when he got a little stronger." Pretender received the National Medal of Merit in 1972 and the Humming Bird Gold in 1994. In his 75-year career, Pretender adhered to traditional calypso styles. But he was considered a pioneer of the modern rapso art form. Pretender died in the height of the Carnival season, less than three weeks before Carnival Monday. *********************************************************

Lord Pretender Dies at Age 84

By TONY FRASER, Associated Press Writer

PORT-OF-SPAIN, Trinidad (AP) - Lord Pretender, considered the last of the great calypso musicians of the 1930s, has died at age 84.

Pretender died Tuesday at his home in Port-of-Spain, friends said Thursday. He had been hospitalized in recent months with ulcers and low blood pressure and suffered throat cancer for years.

In a calypso career spanning 72 years, ``Preddie'' started at age 12 alongside the greats of the era - Roaring Lion, Beginner, Attila the Hun and Executor. Pulsating calypso was born in Trinidad in the 19th century as carnival music that included social criticism.

``Pretender was one of the legends of calypso,'' said Brother Resistance, vice president of the Calypsonians Association. ``Trinidad has lost a cultural icon.''

Among his hits were ``Never Ever Worry,'' ``God Made Us All.''

Pretender, whose real name was Aldric Farrell - many calypso musicians use stage names - placed third in the first calypso king competition of 1939. He won the crown in 1957 with his version of ``Que Sera Sera.''

He was considered the master of the calypso genre of extempore, composing on the spot in oratorical war.

``When you think you have him, he rest a hot piece of extempo on you. He could think fast,'' said fellow calypsonian Mighty Sparrow.

Pretender stressed social commentary in calypso, through the years sticking to the oratorical ballads made famous in the 1930s.

``He had zero tolerance for calypsonians who ignored lyrical content in their song,'' said Brother Resistance.

Pretender never married. Funeral services were being planned.


‘Never Ever Worry’ Pretender’s philosophy of life

By Debbie Jacob

PRETENDER’S contribution to calypso was being part of an important early era that included Growling Tiger, Attila, Viper, Lord Beginner, and the Great Unknown. In a career that spanned seven decades, calypso expert Gordon Rohlehr says, “Pretender kept a consistent line doing what he had always done well: documenting key events that took place. ‘Preedie’ (as Pretender was fondly known) will go down in history for his longevity and his consistency.” Pretender died in his sleep at his Nelson Street, Port of Spain, home Tuesday night. In a previously published interview with the Express, Rohlehr said many calypsonians construct calypsoes in the Pretender mode. “They are not calypsoes that necessarily sound like Pretender, but they have that same witty, moralising element and they are praise songs,” says Rohlehr. Pretender, who was a stickler for what he considered to be authentic kaiso, often praised David Rudder, but chastised Rudder’s style of singing, saying it was not authentic calypso. “The last time I saw him on the corner of Frederick and Queen Street he asked me when I was going to sing calypso,” Rudder said on Wednesday.

Rudder said Pretender’s most famous calypso, “Never Ever Worry”, recorded in 1961, summed up Pretender’s philosophy of life. “Pretender talked about how there’s always someone who has more worries than you. Pretender grew up in an era when calypsonians were not accepted as they are today, and it’s this philosophy that got him through those hard times and made him last so long,” said Rudder. Pretender was perhaps best known for his extempo skills and he once told Rudder, “The trick is always to have your first and last verse.” Rudder described Pretender as “a sly, old fox when it came to singing extempo.” Pretender was crowned extempo king in 1973 when he competed against Roaring Lion, Viper, the Great Unknown and Owl.

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