Born Aldwyn Roberts, 18 April 1922, Arima, Trinidad, West Indies, d. 11 February 2000, Port Of Spain, Trinidad, West Indies. The self-styled “grand master of calypso”, Lord Kitchener was, alongside the Mighty Sparrow, the greatest exponent of Trinidad’s native musical style. Dubbed “the people’s newspaper”, calypso’s lilting African and Latin American rhythms provide the perfect vehicle for the analysis of topical events, and often slyly humorous social and political commentary.
Roberts, the son of a blacksmith, was brought up in the eastern Trinidad town of Arima. He attended the local government school before being forced by the death of his parents to give up education at the age of 14. Known as “Bean” because of his height he was already writing calypso tunes, and first performed live in 1936 serenading the employees of the local water works.
He enjoyed his first local hit in 1939 with “Shops Close Too Early”. By the time Roberts moved to Port Of Spain three years later he had overcome any reservations about a speech defect (a slight stammer which stayed with him all his life) to set out on the road to becoming a leading calypso singer. To this end he joined the Roving Brigade of young calypso singers, singing to partisan audiences in local cinema houses.
His breakthrough came with an appearance at the Victory Calypso tent singing one of his best-known songs, “Green Fig”, on a bill which included giants of calypso such as Growling Tiger, Attila The Hun, and the Roaring Lion. The former became his patron and named him Lord Kitchener. Under his new moniker he established himself with a string of hits, including “Lai Fung Lee (Chinee Never Had A VJ Day)”, “Tie Tongue Mopsy”, and “I Am A Worrier”, and by the mid-40s was headlining his own tent and leading the new wave of calypso artists.
He moved to Jamaica for six months before sailing to England on the Empire Windrush, landing at Tilbury docks on 21 June 1948. Kitchener was to prove highly popular on the London nightclub circuit alongside fellow calypso immigrants such as Lord Beginner, and also broke into the lucrative music hall and variety shows. The duo recorded several sessions for EMI Records, later issued on the Melodisc label, providing a highly topical commentary on immigrant life in post-war Britain.
Kitchener moved to Manchester in 1958, marrying an English woman and opening his own nightclub while continuing to pour out hit calypsos such as “Ah, Bernice!” and “Nora”. Kitchener also remembered to send songs back to Trinidad for entry in the annual carnival, and in 1962, the year of his country’s independence, he returned home. He retained his status as the country’s leading calypso performer and songwriter, and in the subsequent decades managed to win the Road March King title (awarded to the calypso performed most often in the streets during the annual carnival) a record 10 times.
Since the early 40s Kitchener had established himself as a leading composer of the pan music played by steel bands, with the winner of the annual Panorama steel band competition more often than not performing a Kitchener composition. His Calypso Revue tent show, established in the early 60s, helped foster the careers of new calypso artists and encourage new developments such as soca. Instead of taking up a reactionary stance, Kitchener adapted to the challenge of the new music and, in 1978, enjoyed international success with the soca hit “Sugar Bum Bum”. Kitchener continued performing well into the 90s although he was forced to abdicate the stage in the year before his death, which was the result of a severe infection brought on by a blood disorder and organ failure.