King Austin dies at 73

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Austin Lewis, better known in the calypso world as King Austin, passed away at the Port-of-Spain General Hospital yesterday morning at the age of 73.

His only son Marvin Lewis, who also sings calypso as Mr King, told Sunday Newsday yesterday that his father had been ailing with Alzheimer’s disease for the past five years and had to be placed in a home some three months ago.

Marvin added that he, together with King Austin’s only friend Rawle Thompson and promoters, the Virgo Girls, were in the process of producing a show called “A Tribute To King Austin”, scheduled to be held at SWWTU Hall in Portof- Spain on September 17 to commemorate the 17th anniversary of the Virgo Girls of which he was very much a part. He sang on the show every year up until a few years ago.

Asked if the show will now be cancelled young Marvin said no as the show must go on in his father’s honour.

The distraught Marvin also stated it was only two months ago that King’s Austin’s mother Louisa Bull died at age 104, the oldest person living in Laventille at the time of her passing.

King Austin was well-known for his classic calypso and, perhaps one of the best of all time, “Progress”, released in 1980.

He placed second in the National Calypso Monarch that year with the song, a Winsford “Joker” Devine composition.

The song, criticising progress from an environmental point of view, questioning sustainability, as well as addressing exploitation and inequality, appealed to the public at large on a very big scale, hence its popularity.

King Austin, who was modest, soft spoken and unassuming, also produced a number of other classics including “Who are to Guard the Guards” and “The World Today is a Ball of Confusion”.

He began his career in calypso in 1976, singing with the CDC (Carnival Development Committee) Calypso Tent for one year then went across to the Regal Calypso Tent (RCT) run by the Mighty Chalkdust (Dr Hollis Liverpool), deceased Mighty Duke (Kelvin Pope) and Lord Superior (Andrew Marcano).

The next year, he moved to another tent before going to the Sparrow’s Young Brigade Calypso Tent, then run by Calypso King of the World, Slinger “Mighty Sparrow” Francisco.

On King Austin’s passing, Chalkdust told Sunday Newsday, “When he started singing he was an instant hit because of his voice. He had a charming sweet little voice. It was Lord Blakie (Carlton Joseph) who discovered him.” Chalkdust said of King Austin’s personality, “As a human being he was very humble. He was always by himself in the tent and never gave any trouble. He was very personable.

We are going to miss him because he was proud to be Trinidadian and proud to be from Laventille.” Commenting too on King Austin’s death was Superior, who said to Sunday Newsday, “When he started with me in the RCT, I was very impressed with him as a renderer.

He recorded one of the greatest calypsos ever (Progress). It will have a very long shelf life. He will be missed as a great performer. God bless his soul.” Chairman of Trinbago Unified Calypsonians’ Organisation (TUCO) South Central Zone, Steve ‘Ras Kommanda’ Pascall, lamented the death of King Austin is another reminder of the need to preserve the work of calypso legends and ensure younger calypsonians carry on the tradition. “Calypso as an artform is within an aging population and we have to continue asking the younger ones to maintain this art form or else eventfully it will just die out,” Pascall observed, also hailing King Austin’s signature song, “Progress”.

“Legends are humans and so just as we come we have to leave. He was a brother who had us mesmerized with a song - Progress- and many others over the years. We are losing a lot of our icons,” Pascall said.

Pascall reminisced that King Austin was a cool and “casual sort of artiste” who delivered his songs in a “nice and charming way”, but observed the calypso bard was not a dancer.

“He was a dresser, a saga boy.

One thing I remember is years ago, when he was singing ‘Progress’ his hat fell off on stage. While singing he just pick it up, put it on and that was something to see. People talked about that a lot. Some say he lost points for the hat coming off his head but others say he should have gotten more points for the way he put it back on.” On behalf of TUCO, especially the South Central zone, Pascall extended his deepest condolences to Lewis’ friends and family.

“May he rest in eternal peace. He was a good one, a very cool gentleman.

He visited me some years ago with Franz “Delamo” Lamkin and we had a great Sunday evening. I could never forget that. King Austin was a jovial man and will surely be missed.”

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