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Boro Trinidadians tip caps to Calypso pioneer

Trinidadians in Richmond Hill and Ozone Park recalled with fondness the career of Lord Pretender, master of the improvisational calypso form of extempo, who died Jan. 22 in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad, at age 84.

Pretender, whose real name was Alric Farrell, but who was known to friends and fans as “Preddie,” had been hospitalized in recent months with ulcers and low blood pressure and had suffered from throat cancer since the early 1990s.

“The man was good,” said Fred Mahabir, owner of the Calypso City night club on Jamaica Avenue, who came to the United States from Trinidad 30 years ago and saw Pretender several times in tents set up during carnival time. “He could carry a show by himself. He knew how to have fun with the audience.”

Carl Holder, part owner of JMC Caribbean Music on Liberty Avenue, said Pretender is known across the world. He first learned of the calypso master 35 years ago from his father.

Holder, who came to Richmond Hill from Trinidad in 1987, said he saw Pretender perform a couple of times in the carnival tents.

“He was very good at extempo,” Holder remembered, referring to calypso’s highest art form in which singers improvise verses on the spot. “He was a very good performer who always got the audience involved.”

Pretender began singing calypso at age 12 when he walked into the Redhed Sailor, a calypso tent in Cobeaux Town, where he grew up. He sang of the death of a girl named Jane: “This is what she say/Before she pass away/Aldric, meet again on Resurrection Day.”

He toured the country with the calypso Executor and quickly earned the nickname “Boy Wonder.” The neophyte received 60 cents and two bags of navel oranges for his efforts, but his grandmother, who raised him after his mother left for the United States, was unimpressed.

Because of calypso’s less than pristine reputation, she would often storm into the tents with his uncle and haul Farrell off the stage. “I’d get two clouts in the face,” he told the Trinidad Express last May. “My grandmother would say, ‘you disgracing the family.’”

But Pretender, who had given himself that nickname while pitching marbles as a boy, pressed on in the face of his family’s disapproval. He played with such giants of the era as Roaring Lion, Beginner and Attila the Hun.

In 1939 he placed third in the first national calypso king competition, and in 1957 he won the crown — the highest achievement for a calypso player— with his version of “Que Sera Sera.”

Holder said “Never Ever Worry,” one of the greatest calypso tunes of all time, was his favorite Pretender song. The 1961 hit went, “Don’t mind how you suffering bad/What I say is true/Always consider somebody suffering more than you.”

Fans, Holder said, took the words to heart. “A lot of people took his rendition of ‘Never Ever Worry’ seriously,” he said. “This has avoided a lot of stress in their lives.”

The music store owner also said Pretender was well-known for being a sharp dresser. “He was always wearing a tie,” Holder said. Up until his last performances, Pretender was never seen on stage without his trademark fedora, which became part of his act.

“He always used to cock his hat back, take it off and put it back on at the beginning of the next verse,” Holder said.

Pretender, who also loved horse racing, performed until the mid-1990s, when he was forced to the sidelines by throat cancer. He died as Trinidadians were gearing up for this year’s carnival, which will take place in February.

Published reports from Trinidad said Pretender frequently sang “Never Ever Worry” and had been taking home remedies of cough syrup and honey, hoping to regain enough strength to display his unparalleled extempo skills once again.

In Spice Island, another Liberty Avenue record store, Bob Alexander remembered Pretender as a skilled lyricist.

Alexander said he had never seen Pretender perform, but he picked up the phone and called Trinidadian record producer Moonasar Chankar, who has witnessed at least 20 Pretender shows over the years.

“He was one of the best,” Chankar said from his home in Trinidad. “Preddie was one of the main calypso pioneers.”

Reach reporter Daniel Massey by e-mail at or call 229-0300, Ext. 156.

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