Sherlan Wilson - King Fighter

VINCYPOWA

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Sherland Wilson may not have struck fame and glory while trying to make a career out of boxing in the 50s, but he effectively used the stance he learned as a boxer on the stage to win over his audience when he opted to become a calypsonian instead, using the sobriquet "King Fighter."

A number of personalities in Trinidad and Tobago, where the Guyana-born Wilson developed his composing and singing career, fondly reminisced about him following his death two weeks ago in a Grenada hospital, reportedly from a stroke.

Often referred to as the "Pyjama Suit Man" after one of his calypsoes, King Fighter was known for his wit and humour.

He would dramatically snatch off his ever-present hat, showing his bald head, before bursting into "Come Leh We Go (Sukie)" - another favourite calypso piece.

His "People Will Talk" also remains among the most requested vintage calypsoes.

King Fighter was ranked among calypso's legends, a title not often bestowed upon a non-Trinidadian, especially at a time when Sparrow and Melody ruled the calypso world tightly.

King Fighter goes back, a survivor of calypso wars and hard times in-between calypso seasons, to champion the cause of good lyrics and respectable delivery. Singing for over 30 years, King Fighter performed with some of the most respected bards in the business, breaking calypso barriers.

Fellow calypsonian and friend Fred Mitchell (Composer) remembered King Fighter as an extremely jovial person who was always mentally alert.

"Nobody could pass anything by him, there was never a topic or conversation that he couldn't contribute."

Composer, who shared several stages with Fighter, says he met the bard in the late 50s and the two remained friends.

"He had a very melodic voice. (He was) a very nice person to be around; people would talk to him just to hear his Guyanese accent and he would oblige."

Composer, a past president of Trinbago Unified Calypsonians Organisation (TUCO), said that many are not aware that King Fighter could claim one of the greatest calypso classics of the 20th century - "People Will Talk."

"It's unfortunate that his passing has gone unnoticed," said Composer, noting that when King Fighter became ill, he didn't share this with everyone, since he wanted no special treatment.

Without exception, everyone who knew Fighter agreed he was a very pleasant and witty individual.

Radio broadcaster and producer/presenter of a local radio programme, Vintage Calypso, Winston Maynard, said Fighter's genre was calypso wit.

"He was not handsome, he was bald and he loved to poke fun at himself."

Maynard said calypso fans used to look forward to his coming from Guyana for the calypso season.

He was one of a battery of Caribbean calypsonians - including Lord Coffee and Lord Canary - who made the annual pilgrimage during the build-up to Carnival.

A calypso connoisseur, Maynard says the closest King Fighter came to a Road March win was with "Come Leh We Go Sukie."

After his success, Fighter got married and took a sabbatical.

However, when he tried to return in the 90s he found that there was no longer a place for him in local calypso tents, with the traditional calypso music making an evolutionary change with new sounds.

Local entertainer and calypso collector Dennis "Sprangalang" Hall remembers King Fighter as a "gentle soul", and not a "rowdy fellow."

Hall said, "He had a nice voice and made nice tunes. He was a kind of tunesmith, one who understood the mix of calypso and East Indian music."

Always a favourite when it came to going down memory lane, King Fighter was given his big calypso break by Syl Taylor to sing at the Original Young Brigade (OYB), one of the top-ranking calypso tents.

One of the ultimate nostalgia men, King Fighter went on to become an integral part of historic "The Glamour Boys" Tour which successfully played in Montreal, Boston, Baltimore and New York.

Pelham Goddard, top calypso arranger and musician, who worked on one of the last recordings with King Fighter, also recalls the "gentleness" and simplicity of the calypsonian.

"I first met Fighter through Art De Coteau in the 70s while we were working in the recording studio and later when we were putting down the tracks for Living Legends of Calypso - The Glamour Boys Again. He was a nice and humble person and a very melodic singer.

"Before that, I provided musical back-up for him at a show in St Thomas."

Goddard says the calypsonian was not one for extravagance and when asked to wear a suit and tie for the filming of the CD insert, King Fighter turned up in what he called his "Caribbean bacchanal shirt."

"He was a true, true calypsonian."

King Fighter's legacy in his music will live on a CD salute to the "golden years of calypso."

Former Grenada Calypso Monarch Elwin ("Black Wizard") McQuilkin, who performed in Trinidad for a number of years alongside Fighter, remembered him best this way.

"He like(d) to take off his hat while performing and show his bald head and the crowd would roar," McQuilkin recalled.

"He was a very good performer on stage and a very witty calypsonian. He was not well rewarded as a calypsonian, though," Wizard told Cana.

King Fighter's last public performance was as a guest artiste during the Grenada National Song Festival in October, when he received an award for his contribution to the development of regional calypso.
 
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