A gift from daughter to dad
By Herman Hall
Last evening, Friday May 4, the screening of a film at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York about the contributions of Rawlston Charles, a producer of calypso and early soul-calypso (soca), will become part of calypso and Caribbean history. It is the first time a documentary focusing on a calypso-soca pioneer was introduced at the famed Tribeca Film Festival established in 2003 by Robert De Niro, Jane Rosenthal and Craig Hatkoff.
Tina Charles, WNBA superstar, two-time gold winning Olympian who also led the University of Connecticut – UCONN – to two national champions and daughter of Rawlston Charles, made her debut as a film director and producer. While touring the Smithsonian National MuseumofAfrican American History & Culture in Washington, DC with her mother, both were astonished to see Charlie’s Records and Rawlston Charles included in a display. Although Tina was aware of her father’s involvement in calypso, she did not realize the extent until she saw his recognition at the museum. During the last few years she spent most of her non-basketball time producing the film. She remarked, last evening, that she sometimes arrived at practice late and even shortened after-the-game media briefings while arduously preparing the film.
I attended the film screening Friday evening and I must say I was emotional for multiple reasons; it was truly a reflective night. There was space for only a few of Tina family members, close friends and makers of the documentary. Family and friends gathered at Charlie’s Records on Fulton Street, Brooklyn, to take a charted bus to Manhattan. Emotional moments began at the store where many calypso stalwarts of the 1970s and 1980s who were part of the calypso fever were awaiting the bus.
Just as the film was about to begin calypso producer and distributor Granville Straker of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, who and Charles were fierce rivals and one can say fierce enemies during those decades, now frail, gently helped by his daughter, Suzanne Straker Greenidge, M.D., FA.C.O.G., to experience this historic event. And, Charles daughter, a famous American personality, producing a documentary about her father of which homage to Straker was included in the film. To know the two gladiators of calypso raising two productive Caribbean-American daughters was gratifying.
It was emotional to see images of the late Lord Kitchener, Duke, Shadow, Holly Thomas and others. And, to watch artists such as David Rudder, The Mighty Sparrow, King Wellington, Explainer, Machel Montano and Poser reflect on Rawlston Charles.
Last year Tina frequently called me to retrieve EVERYBODY’S Magazine photos of her father and the calypso era. Sometimes 3am, 2 am, from wherever she was playing basketball, China, Russia, Europe, I never told her that thousands of our photos from Bob Marley, Caribbean political events to calypso are not cataloged and are scattered in draws and closets at the magazine. It took me months in the midst of ill-health to find them. Last night, I was moved to see how Tina and her assistants used the photos and my articles.
The late calypsonian Arrow “Feeling Hot, Hot, Hot” was produced by Rawlston Charles but sadly the new owners of the song who make a ton of money each year for the right of advertisers to use the calypso in commercials did not grant Tina permission to play the song in the film. Arrow’s brother who also participated in the creation of the classic cannot get a single dollar from the owners of the song because he cannot present a written contract with his late brother.
The documentary is not only about Charles pioneering efforts in calypso. His Rawlston Recording Studio became the recording home of early hip hop artists such as Dough E Fresh. They pay tribute to Charles in the film. Most people do not realize that many rappers’ and hip hop hits such as “La Di Da Di” were recorded at Rawlston Recording Studios.
EVERYBODY’S Caribbean Magazine will do a formal review of the film in an upcoming edition. I cannot wait to see how the Trinidad & Tobago media, calypso critics and scholars will react to the film and Tobago born and raised, Rawlston Charles.