It’s only been four months since the calypso fraternity of T&T grieved the loss of one of its iconic female calypsonians, with the passing of Sandra “Singing Sandra” DesVignes-Millington in February.
Now, over that loss came yesterday’s news of the passing of calypso composer extraordinaire, Dr Winsford “Joker” Devine.
Devine, 78, who had been ailing for some time, passed away at the Port-of-Spain General Hospital at 4 am yesterday, after complaining of pain in his chest.
Speaking with Guardian Media, his daughter Alison said her father’s death, though painful, was something Devine was preparing his family for.
“For the last two months, he kept on telling us, he doesn’t think he has long again. I think it was like he was kind of preparing us for it,” she said.
She said her father, who had diabetes and also suffered from high blood pressure, made frequent trips to the hospital recently after suffering two or three strokes, not inclusive of the first one he suffered in 1998—the latter which left him in use of a wheelchair.
She said, he also had problems moving one of his arms and would complain of chest pains.
“It would come and go. Some days he would be good, some days he would be kind of, not too good.”
Responding to Guardian Media’s question on plans for funeral arrangements, Alison said “most likely” it should be next Monday.
However, she explained due to COVID-19 protocols in the handling of a deceased– her father has to be tested for the virus, so the family was awaiting the test to be done before Devine’s body could be released.
The father of eight leaves behind his children, grandchildren and wife Theresa, of over 50 years.
Devine, a self-taught musician penned over 600 songs in his career, writing for well-celebrated calypsonians like the Mighty Sparrow, Baron, and The Mighty Trini. The familiar sweet soca songs performed by such calypsonians included the infectious Sailfish, Doh Rock it So, and Curry Tabanca.
But with Devine, there were no barriers, when it came to recipients of his craft, as he was also responsible for a young Machel Montano’s soca sing-along—Too Young to Soca and even lent his gift of composing to the gospel fraternity, penning God is Love, for ‘gospelypso’ artiste Sean Daniel.
His writing style would switch from an upbeat tempo to the penmanship of social and political commentary like Capitalism Gone Mad, sung and performed by the Mighty Sparrow, who benefited from Devine’s writing talent for 17 years.
As much as he loved calypso and soca, pan also held a special place in Devine’s heart. The pan arena was his first home as it was where his career in the arts began as a young boy. Some of his pan compositions included, 1971’s Queen of the Bands, 1972’s Drunk and Disorderly, 1973’s Melody, and 1978’s Du Du Yemi, which took the panorama title that year.
Even as he ailed, Devine who once said in an interview “I can’t stop writing,” recently wrote his last and final song titled: Philanthropy—a composition performed by his long-time friend Edwin “Crazy” Ayoung. The 2021 offering was released three days ago.
A cultural ambassador who wore many hats, Devine’s passing came as a blow to the calypso fraternity, that said, it has lost an extraordinary composer.
“Certainly we have lost a big one…just a big one. A true champion in the world of calypso and a literary giant,” expressed Lutalo “Brother Resistance” Masimba, president of Trinbago Unified Calypsonians Organisation, (Tuco)
Though his father was the one more acquainted with Devine, calypsonian and mas man, Ronnie Mc Intosh, said there was no denying, Devine was an ace writer.
“I know he has been or was a prolific writer. I mean he… back in the day yuh know…a lot of the stuff on the radio… yuh know would have been written by Winsford.”
Veteran arranger and composer, Pelham Goddard who spoke with Guardian Media from the US, remember Devine for his book (The Progress: Winsford Devine), which was an inspirational tool in the Goddard house. A book he said should be available to schoolchildren so they can learn about stalwarts like Devine.
“I bought the book for my son when my son was going to high school in America here, and he appreciates that book, “Goddard said.
Tribute to the man with the golden pen also came from Tourism and Culture Minister, Randall Mitchell, who in a release yesterday, spoke highly of Devine’s contribution to the art form and his time spent as a cultural mentor on the former Ministry of Community Development, Culture and the Arts’ Mentoring by Masters programme.
Former president of T&T Anthony Carmona, said via a WhatsApp message, “This philosopher-poet Winston “Joker” Devine, helped internationalised the calypso art form in a way not followed by some of our bards. His compositions were never divisive, parochial or insular but rather uplifting, reflective, searching, philosophical, humanistic and global in content.”
But it was National Carnival Commission (NCC) chairman and calypsonian, Winston “Gypsy” Peters who said Devine’s death occurring so soon after the death of DesVignes-Millington, showed a quickly aging fraternity, which was now losing irreplaceable good calypso writers.
“We have a shortage of calypso writers in Trinidad and Tobago and what’s left isn’t…. It’s an irreplaceable loss really. He is one of the most prolific calypso writers, we had in the Caribbean,” he said.
Peters is happy, however, Devine’s work was recognised while he was still alive by the University of West Indies that bestowed upon the writer an Honorary Doctorate, receiving his Doctor of Letters in 2017.
Devine was also the 1998 recipient of the Humming Bird Medal Silver (for Music and the Arts).