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Four Local Artistes for NY Honours

By Terry Joseph
February 03, 2004


THE T&T Folk Arts Institute of NEW York will, on Saturday April 24, honour four distinguished members of the local arts community, at a function at Brooklyn's Crystal Manor.

One among them, Cheryl Byron has passed on but from all indications, artist Leroy Clarke, playwright Freddie Kissoon and novelist Earl Lovelace will be making the trek to New York to receive their awards.

Folk Arts Institute chairman Les Slater said the four will receive the Citation of Merit, the Institute's premier award at a banquet in their honour. Byron's posthumous award is a break with tradition but Slater said the contribution of the gifted poet-storyteller-choreographer, who died in New York in June of 2003, should not go unheralded.

In announcing the awards, Slater said: "As an organisation dedicated to the proper preservation of our cultural legacy, we are always pleased to salute those who have been exceptional contributors. In the persons we decided to honour this year, there is no disputing how much both individually and collectively they have enriched the cultural landscape."

Prior recipients of the Citation of Merit include Beryl McBurnie, Ellie Mannette, Emory Cook, Lord Kitchener, Dr. JD Elder, Bob Gittens, Stephen Lee HEUNG, Julia Edwards, Joey Lewis, Shadow, Winsford "Joker" Devine and Daphne Weekes, the pioneering Trinidad-born pianist who led an orchestra in New York from the 1940s to the 1970s.

Since 1991 the Institute has also conferred special honours on practitioners in various idioms for their sterling contributions. The surviving members of the trail-blazing TASPO steelband group of 1951 were honoured in 1993. In 1999, 15 key dance band leaders from the 1950s-1960s era were honoured. And in 2001 "Tribute To Legends of Pan" saluted 12 stalwarts of the steel band world.

Clarke's widely acclaimed paintings have been shown in numerous exhibitions at home and abroad since the late 1960s. He is also a published poet and is generally known to be a fearless advocate on behalf of youth and the powerless. A retrospective on his life's work, of Flesh & Salt & Wind & Currents, was published in 2003.

Kissoon's name has been associated with drama in Trinidad and Tobago for more than four decades. His fascination with drama and ability as a writer led to his forming the Strolling Players in 1957, a group that, amazingly, has endured and is still actively engaged in dramatic production.

He has also staged productions in other Caribbean territories and in the US.

Among his most popular works are Calabash Alley, first created for radio in 1970, We Crucify Him, King Cobo and Mamaguy. In 1986, he was honoured by The State with a Humming Bird Medal for his contribution to the arts. Lovelace is a prize-winning novelist whose literary skills have earned him plaudits beyond Trinidad and Tobago. Among his five novels, Salt won the Commonwealth Writers Prize in 1997. The Dragon Can't Dance, published in 1979, is considered a Caribbean literary classic. Lovelace's other novels are The Wine of Astonishment (1982), While Gods Are Falling (1965) and The Schoolmaster (1968).

His books have been translated into several languages, including German, Dutch, French, Hungarian and Japanese. He received a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1980. In 1988 he was honoured with the Chaconia Gold medal. UWI conferred on him an honourary degree of Doctor of Letters in 2002.

Byron's abilities were manifest in dance, poetry, storytelling and African tradition. She occupied a unique place among those who promulgate Black culture and was among the pioneers of rapso and dub poetry. After relocating to New York and New York University, she formed Something Positive, a multi-faceted Caribbean performance arts organization dedicated to the art and culture of the African diaspora. She performed all over the US, as well as in Niegeria, Kenya, Barbados, Jamaica and Guyana.


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