By Terry Joseph
BEULAH BOBB, solo calypsonian and one of four female singers in the genre known as the United Sisters, succumbed to cancer at 1 am yesterday at Booth Memorial Hospital in Brooklyn, New York.
Born in Líanse Fourmi, Tobago on March 25, 1957, Bobb, one of mother Berylís ten children, started her calypso career at age 17, singing under the sobriquet Saga Ting Mama and won the islandís crown for two successive years.
Based on her double triumph, the Mighty Sparrow invited her to move to Trinidad in 1980, to join the cast of his Young Brigade Tent. Shortly before her first season in Trinidad she changed her moniker to Lady B.
But since 1977 when she was first selected for the National Calypso Semi-Final, Lady B has made it to that penultimate rung every year, establishing a record among women and running second only to Chalkdust overall. Her greatest disappointment, she told author Rudolph Ottley, is that she never made it to the next level Ė the national final.
However, in 1986, Lady B was crowned National Calypso Queen and five years later, went on to win the Caribbean Song Festival with the United Sisters, with a song she wrote called "Ambataila Woman".
Her songwriting this year catapulted 15 year-old Patrice Roberts of the Toco Composite School to a double victory. Lady Bís "Doh Go Dey" and "The Peace Song" won Roberts prizes valued at more than $100,000, by copping both the Junior Soca Monarch and Junior Calypso Monarch titles.
Bobb, who taught music and drama at the Toco school, recognised Roberts as one of her more talented students and since last year, wrote songs for the teenager. When asked why she didnít keep the prize-winning songs for herself, Bobb replied: "I am a producer of corn. I canít eat all. I have to share with friends."
She has had her share of popularity with calypso tent crowds over the years. Among her best-remembered pieces are: "Fight Back", "Hostage", "Adda Adda Ringbang" and "Whoa Donkey", the latter as part of the group The United Sisters, which included Singing Sandra, Marvelous Marva and Tigress.
Yesterday Singing Sandra, the only sister currently living here, spent much of the day weeping her heart away, beyond consolation, saying she and Lady B had known each for a very long time. "She had asked to be cremated," Sandra said, "because she knew what her illness meant. But it fooled everybody, because just recently, they said it was in remission."
Bobb, who has also worked with the Community Development Division, was herself at school for the past three years, reading for a Bachelorís Degree in Music (with emphasis on calypso). She finished her programme and was scheduled to graduate next month.
"She Battled To The End"
WELL known in calypso circles for her willingness to assist young female calypsonians, Lady B often reflected on the help she got from pioneers like Singing Francine and Calypso Rose.
In a Daily Express interview last March, she said: "The only people I can distinctly remember being present in my starting days were Singing Francine and Calypso Rose and it (calypso singing) was tough for a lady back then.
Yesterday, Rose remembered Lady B not at her entry to calypso, but during her last days. Speaking to the Daily Express from her New York home, Rose, herself a cancer survivor, expressed "extreme sadness" at Lady Bís passing.
"Let me tell you, she battled that illness to the very end," Rose said. "As soon as she came up here I called to find out how she was feeling, because I knew of her condition. She told me her doctor said everything was okay, so I asked her if she felt able to work and she said yes.
"I took a decision right there on the phone to get her a spot on every show I was billed for in the New York area. She went to Los Angeles by her family for a while, but as soon as she came back to Brooklyn, I told promoters if they didnít cater for her, then take a part of my salary and give it to Lady B and that is how it worked.
"So she worked with me wherever I went in New York, the last time being on August 25 at the Soca Paradise and that was something else. She was a fighter. I really didnít expect her at the show because she had begun to go down by then, but one hour before the show she and her sister turned up.
"She was skin and bone. I asked her why she came. She had deteriorated badly since the time before, but she was determined to go onstage and work. She could hardly hold up, so I had a couch brought into the dressing room and put her to lay down and the sight of her brought tears to my eyes.
"My grandmother had always said when people are going to die and they lie down, they always put their face into a corner and that was exactly what she did. But as I told you, she was determined to go on. I got her a cup of tea and gave it to her. I begged her to stay in the dressing room but she said ĎMama Rosie, I want you to put a chair on the stage for me and I will come out there and sing.í
"They put the chair, she came out and sat and before I finish my programme. I introduced her, telling the audience she was a member of the famous United Sisters and a calypsonian in her own right. I told them she was very ill and had come out of hospital because she promised to do the show and didnít want to disappoint even in her condition. When I told them she had cancer, they immediately rushed and found a box and started a collection for her.
"I started to sing gospel songs and they collected the money through the audience. They collected many hundreds of dollars and I turned the money over to her sister. That was the Saturday. Early the Sunday morning I called her to say donít worry to try to come to the other show in Harlem, I will pay you anyhow.
"That is when her sister told me she was back in hospital. I had been checking all week until I left for the Virgin Islands last Thursday to do a show with Sparrow and Nelson. In my heart, I knew she would not make it but she was not giving up. When I heard she died, I experienced extreme sadness, because she was fighting right down to the last.
"I flew back to New York yesterday morning (Monday) and as soon as I got into the house I called. Her sister said she was vomiting and had come down with a high fever. This morning (Tuesday) the phone rang at exactly 2 am and her sister said she died an hour before.
"I have been out all day trying to see what I could do to assist. Since she does not reside here, I know it will be costly to handle funeral arrangements to ship her body home, so I started a drive, me and Conqueror and Phyllis Joseph, to raise money.
"It is having good response. People are calling and pledging donations. "The whole calypso family in New York is saddened," Rose said.
CALYPSO King of the World, The Mighty Sparrow yesterday said he was shocked and saddened by the death of Lady B.
"I knew she was sick," Sparrow said, "but I was really shocked when I got the news just a minute ago. This is sad indeed, because she was relatively young. What it seems like is that you not even getting the chance to get over one tragedy before another strikes.
"I am really sorry to hear about her death and would like to offer my condolences to the family and all those who, like myself, will miss her in the business.
"This is one of the calypsonians I feel the whole country should be mourning. She was not only very active in promoting calypso, but was a wonderful human being. Believe me, I wasnít expecting this at all," Sparrow said.
TUCO SENDS CONDOLENCES
The Trinbago Unified Calypsonians Organisation (TUCO) yesterday issued a press release lamenting her death and celebrating her contribution to the art. She was described in the release as "a high profile professional entertainer who displayed an exuberance that depicted inner strength."
Signed by PRO Michael "Protector" Legerton, the release further said: "A member of the Kaiso House cast from inception, she was almost a permanent fixture at the national semi-final. Lady B was a founding member of the United Sisters and the Kaisoca Touring Team.
"Because of her strong leadership qualities, Beulah Bobb was respected by all who knew her. She was a former public relations officer of TUCO and will always be remembered and missed by the entire fraternity. Condolences to her family and may she rest in peace."