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Homes of Kitchener, Lion to be museums

Terry Joseph
February 11, 2002

Work is going on apace to turn the former homes of calypso legends Roaring Lion and Grandmaster Kitchener into museums, family members have announced.

Lion, in whose memory a pan on the move competition is being held tonight in his old hometown of San Fernando, died in 1999. Today marks the second anniversary of Kitchener’s death.

Valarie Greene, mother of three of Kitchener’s children and his common-law wife for some 15 years, told the Express a decision to turn Rainorama Palace, the Grandmaster’s Diego Martin home into a museum was taken by the family and work is already underway to store his works and other memorabilia there.

“We’d like to call it The Grandmaster’s Gallery and we are really trying to see if we could have it ready for the public by mid-year,” Greene said yesterday.

A committee is already working on the project. The group includes Rawle Gibbon, Dr Iva Gloudon, Errol Peru and selected family members.

“The Lord Kitchener Memorial Committee is going to resume meeting soon after Carnival,” Greene said. “We have already made a lot of progress. Miss Pat Bishop is organising the documentation of all the pieces and so far we have already received some sponsorship, including a grant from the National Gas Company, through the courtesy of Mr Hasely Crawford.

“We are also trying to do a shrine at his grave, for tourists and schoolchildren to get a proper understanding of how we treat our heroes. If Jamaica can do it for Bob Marley, then there is no reason we cannot achieve the same level for Kitch.”

Greene added: “In fact, it was someone who went to the Bob Marley Museum in Jamaica, who came back and spoke to us about getting this done. We have preserved a bedroom in his memory and the Culture Ministry has turned over to us the artistic impressions of Kitchener produced by schoolchildren, which came from the fringe festival of the Schools Steelband Music Festival last year.”

Asked about the state of a legal battle concerning the property, Greene said: “Frankly, I don’t even take that on. We won the first round in court and they sent it to the High Court. No proceedings have started as yet and I just think positive.

“This is what God wants me to do so I’m just doing it and let the courts do their business.”

In the case of the Roaring Lion Museum, there are no such legal encumbrances. Akenathon de Leon, visiting son of Roaring Lion, said his plans were in place to also turn his father’s Mt Lambert property into a showcase of his works and efforts to record the history of calypso.

Lion, who died at age 91, is the person who gave Trinidad and Tobago its sobriquet “The Land of Calypso” when asked by US President Roosevelt “Where are you from?” after a command performance.

Born Rafael de Leon, Lion contributed some seven decades to the performance of calypso and was a respected researcher. He left a formidable catalogue and the book 800 Years of Calypso History, in which he argues that the origin of calypso was in France.

He pursued his interests vigorously, particularly in the seventies when he produced and voiced radio programmes on calypso’s Golden Age and wrote articles for The Evening News.

Of Lion, Kitchener once told this reporter: “He ruled the roost during the early period, attracting hundreds of upper class people to the tent at a time when that was not normal. He became so popular that if there was a big show at a cinema, people would go to the venue but refuse to purchase tickets until they saw him.”

Lion was until 1951, official entertainer at Government House, performing for State visits by other Heads of Governments, presidents and royalty. He also was called upon to write a special calypso for the visit of Pope John Paul II in 1985.

Among his better known works were “Netty, Netty”, “Old Lady Walk a Mile and a Half”, “Sally Water” and “Papa Chunks” which he remade in 1994 with even greater success than at first hearing some 36 years earlier.

Interestingly, when he released the song “Netty, Netty” there was some criticism about its risque lyrics and when the first shipment of records arrived in Trinidad, the authorities dumped it in the Gulf of Paria.

A 1993 remake featuring David Rudder, produced by Eddy Grant enjoyed a less traumatic return to the charts.

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