Lord Kitchener - Biography
Aldwyn Roberts, the man who would become known by his regal pseudonym, Lord Kitchener, was born April 18, 1922 in the small town of Arima on the Caribbean island of Trinidad and Tobago. His vocal talent and clever word play would earn him scores of original hits at home and beyond. Along with Mighty Sparrow, he dominated the mature calypso scene of the ‘60s and ‘70s. His popularity continued through the transition to a more modern soca sound in the ‘80s. Adored and respected by his fans he continued to perform and record until his death in 2000.
Legend has it that he began composing original calypsos at the age of ten. He taught himself guitar and attended school until his parent’s death at age 14. Already standing 6’ 2” his sister called the skinny teenager “Bean.” His quick wit made him a great improviser and in 1936 he began to earn money singing for the employees at the Water Works. People began to take notice when he sang in his town’s bamboo calypso tent for carnival in 1937. By 1939 he had a local hit with “Shops Close Too Early.”
He joined a group of calypso singers who called themselves the Roving Brigade, and performed in venues such as movie theatres. A stand out performance earned him an invitation to perform at Port of Spain’s prestigious Victory Calypso Tent. Sharing the stage with the likes of Roaring Lion, Tiger, Atilla the Hun, and Pretender, it was Growling Tiger who bequeathed him the title Lord Kitchener after a British military adventurer. Although carnival ceased during World War II, the music tents continued and Kitchener scored his first hit in the capital with his song “Mary, I Am Tired and Disgusted.”
With the return of carnival in 1946, Kitchener was everywhere singing his new popular tunes including “Jump In Line” and “Chinese Never Had a VJ Day.” Trinidad and Tobago has a rich carnival tradition in which virtually the entire island participates in a week of nonstop music and parades, as numerous competitive groups choose songs and do battle to win popularity. Prominent among a new generation of Calypsonians, Kitchener opened his own tent for the “Young Brigade” sharing the stage with Spoiler, Mighty Killer, and Lord Melody. Several of his tunes caught fire, including “Scandal in St. Ann’s” and “Tie Tongue Mopsy” and Kitchener was declared Calypsonian of the Year.
Among the 78 singles he released in 1948 was the comical “Death is Compulsory.” Feeling he had reached the ceiling in Trinidad he rode his popularity to Jamaica where his song “Sweet Jamaica” was warmly received. Ultimately he decided to hop aboard the Empire Windrush and sail for London to try his luck like many of his fellow countrymen. Another young Calypsonian, Lord Beginner, was aboard the very same ship and his career would parallel that of Kitchener's. After a BBC radio appearance he got a gig at the lone West Indian club in London and before long was performing several nights a week. The fast tempo and Kitchener’s Caribbean accent made it difficult for his English audiences to understand the lyrics but they caught on soon enough. Songs such as “Kitch’s Cricket Calypso,” “London Is The Place For Me,” and “The Underground Train” endeared him to a British audience. Others such as “Cold in the Winter” and “Food From the West Indies” described the immigrant experience and kept him popular back in Trinidad.
Kitch, as his fans fondly called him, moved north to Manchester and married a British woman, Marjorie, in 1953. He established his own band similar to a swing orchestra with blazing brass, swinging reeds, and above all a rhythm section that nailed down an infectious calypso beat. He composed many tunes about women and rum, but also showed his social conscience in songs like “Africa My Home,” “If You’re Not White You’re Black,” “Birth of Ghana” and “Nigerian Registration.” In 1956 he began releasing ten inch LP’s on the Melodisc label such as King of Calyspo and Calypso Magic. He successfully exported his records to the Caribbean and West Africa and enjoyed rising success in the UK. The good-time feel-good quality of the music combined with Kitchener’s charm and humor and familiar subject matter, such as “Manchester Football Double,” made for wide appeal.
In 1958 he played in New York City and other East Coast cities on a six-month contract. The trip helped warm up American audiences to contemporary calypso and inspired the composition “New York Woman.” He explored the familiar and topical with keen observation and irony in songs such as “Life Begins at 40,” “Rebound Wife,” “Muriel and the Bug,” “My Wife’s Nightie,” “Woman’s Figure,” “Nosey Mother-in-Law,” and “Short Skirts.” His popularity defied national boundaries and he counted England’s Princess Margaret and American President Harry S. Truman among his fans. Eddy Grant’s Ice record label released an excellent re-mastered collection of fifties Kitchener favorites entitled Klassic Kitchener, Vol. 1 in 2000.
Trinidad and Tobago gained its independence from Britain in 1962 and Kitchener made a triumphant return for the country’s first carnival as sovereign nation in 1963. He established his own tent, the Calypso Revue, and went to work on raising spirits. Some of his competitors dismissed him as too old to rule carnival but his song “The Road” was the overwhelming favorite and the tune won the people’s prize as Road March for that year. Flourishing in the growing carnival atmosphere, Kitchener won two more consecutive Road Marches with “Mama Dis Is Mas’” in 1964 and “My Pussin’” in 1965. He moved the masses again in 1967 with “67” and in 1968 with “Miss Tourist.”
His reign continued in the seventies with Road March winners in 1970 with “Margie” (for his wife), 1971 with “Mas in Madison Square Garden,” “Rain-O-Rama” (about the nasty rains for the previous year’s festivities) in 1973, the “Tribute to Spree Simon” in 1975, and “Flag Woman” in 1976. Such a string of dominance had neither before nor since been seen in Trinidad’s carnival. Moreover his compositions were favorites among the steel pan bands and featured prominently in the Panorama competitions. Surpassing even his dominance in Road March, Kitchener’s songs won Panorama titles 18 times between 1964 and 1997. Musical complexities like major to minor chord changes within a sweet melodic line and sophisticated harmonies made him a favorite with his fellow musicians. Klassic Kitchener, Vol. 2 (2000 Ice) captures many of these quintessential tunes from the sixties and seventies.
With his stately home, named after his song “Rain-O-Rama,” in Diego Martin just outside of Port-of-Spain, Trinidad, Kitchener could have been content to sit back and enjoy his role as the elder statesman of the calypso empire. But, Kitchener continued to be a vital contributor year in and year out even as the use of drum machines and electronic keyboards changed the timbre of the music. The quaint orchestras faded away as the dominant producers switched to electronic production means and by the eighties calypso had given birth to a more modern sound, soca.
During the transition from calypso to soca and approaching sixty-years-old, Kitchener would deliver some of his most enduring performances. Although he criticized the new music, ironically, his biggest hit would be a masterful embrace of soca; “Sugar Bum Bum” hit the mark in 1978 with its irresistible bass line and its infectious chorus and remains one of the genre’s most recognized tunes. With joy Kitchener sings, “Audrey, every time you wiggle/Darling, you put me in trouble/You torture me, the way you wine/I love to see your fat behind/Sugar bum, sugar bum-bum (repeat 3 times) “Gimme the Ting” proved to be another timeless gem and “Pan in A Minor” along with “The Bees Melody” is in every steel pan player’s songbook. All of them can be found on the compilation CD Klassic Kitchener, Vol. 3 (1995 Ice).
Lord Kitchener left his indelible mark on calypso and soca music contributing original compositions in a truly unique voice. Much of his music was simply designed to make people dance, but he also spoke of the modern Caribbean experience- immigration and bigotry. He left his homeland of Trinidad and lived in England for 15 years helping to establish a Caribbean music beachhead there that continues to shine. Already a legend when he returned home in 1963, the best was yet to come as he provided the soundtrack for carnival for the next several decades.
young singers at his Calypso Revue, helping them compose, write lyrics, and giving practical advice. Artists such as Explainer, Iwer George, Scrunter, and Black Stalin can all point to his crucial help. With yet another carnival approaching the beloved Kitch passed away, after some years of declining health, on February 11, 2000 at the ripe age of 77.