“As far as concept and intelligence and warring with words, Mighty Sparrow was and probably still is the king … His shows are like prize fights and he always comes out on top, all this and a fifteen or twenty piece band just blasting away … He’s fantastic.” — Bob Dylan (Biograph box set notes)
Slinger Francisco, The Mighty Sparrow, was born on July 9, 1935 in Grand Roy, Grenada, and migrated to Trinidad with his family when he was one year old.
Thus followed a run of songs over the decades—from “Mr. Walker” to “Obeah Wedding” to the infamous “Congo Man” (banned for 23 years by the BBC!), and too many more to mention here—that are known well throughout the Caribbean.
In 1969, Sparrow teamed up with Jamaican musician Byron Lee to record “Only A Fool Breaks His Own Heart,” which was a hit in the UK and in the Netherlands, where it re-entered the charts eight years later, spending a staggering 27 weeks on the charts and peaking at #2 in the spring of 1978.
Throughout the second half of the 20th century, “Birdie” (as he is known to his fans), revolutionized Calypso, taking it from its pure folk roots and injecting elements of Jazz and American Pop, transforming it into an international, cross-cultural art form. Across seven decades he recorded over fifty albums of his original songs, many of which have become standards among Caribbean performers and recording artists.
His trademark wit and rabble-rousing lyrics, unwavering social commentary coupled with sophisticated musical accompaniment, established him as an international music icon. He’s been a cross-genre stylist, incorporating pan-African, funk, and soca flavors, crooning ballads, and singing Christmas favorites, spirituals, and “gospelypso.” No other Calypsonian in history has had the musical breadth and such broad appeal across music categories.
The Mighty Sparrow has won Trinidad’s Carnival Road March competition eight times, Calypso King/Monarch eight times, and twice earned the Calypso King of Kings designation. He has toured the world for over half a century, written over 500 songs, and recorded over 70 albums. The late Secretary of State (and Calypso aficionado) Colin Powell called him “The Mount Olympus of Calypso.”
His awards and honors include:
1987 — Honorary Doctor of Letters (D. Litt.) from the University of the West Indies
2013 — Lifetime Achievement Award, Trinidad & Tobago Government
2015 — Awarded Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE)
2019 — GlobalFEST Lifetime Artist Award