Elsworth James’ passion was to promote soca, calypso

by Lincoln Depradine
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Elsworth James (far left) Please crop photo

By LINCOLN DEPRADINE
It was via a short note – 152 words – on Facebook that many people in Trinidad & Tobago, Canada and other parts of the world first heard the news last Thursday that former Toronto-based calypsonian and entertainment promoter Elsworth James had died.
“With profound grief the family of Elsworth James announces the death of our beloved patriarch. Elsworth, known fondly as Father James, was a loving father, grandfather, relative and friend. We know the community shares our sadness as he was loved by many,” said the note from James’ wife Margaret and other family members.
There was a time when “calypso in Toronto meant Elsworth James”, performing artiste Henry “Cosmos” Gomez told Share. “He was a star promoter and a man of ideas; always, always with ideas. His passion for calypso knew no bounds.” Gomez, a former Canadian Calypso Monarch and current president of the Organization of Calypso Performing Artists (OCPA) described James as “a great mixture of charm and aggressiveness”.
“As a promoter and an impresario, Elsworth had that something about him that got people’s attention; that got people to come his way.”
James was dropped off as a latchkey kid in Trinidad after his mother died in St. Vincent. And, although he was widely known for his association with calypso and soca, it was not the genre into which he initially launched his music career.
He attracted attention in 1970s Trinidad as a pop musician and as co-founder and a vocalist with the bands “Succession” and “Double Feature”. Calypso and soca singing would come later.
It remains a seminal moment in Caribbean music promotion in Toronto when James and his wife formed a production company to promote calypso globally.
The company booked some of the best Toronto venues to host its shows, including the Molson Amphitheater, Lamport Stadium and the Metro Convention Centre.
The artistes contracted to perform were a virtual list of who’s who in Caribbean entertainment with Canada-based entertainers sharing the stage with performers such as Swallow of Antigua; Ajamu of Grenada; Jamaica’s Beenie Man; Vincentians Becket and Winston Soso; Gabby of Barbados and Trinidad & Tobago’s Superblue, Machel Montano, Roy Cape, Lord Kitchener, Sparrow, Shadow, David Rudder, Drupati, Ricky Jai, Calypso Rose, Ronnie McIntosh and Crazy.
James “stands at the very top” of calypso and events’ promotion, Gomez said.
“From OCPA’s point of view, we owe him a debt of gratitude because he gave a number of Canadian calypsonians the first break on a big stage. He gave me my first break on the big stage. He put me alongside people like Ajamu and Mighty Sparrow, Shadow and Denise Plummer.
“He was very instrumental in bringing big names to Toronto to make sure that we, in Canada, got a good taste of what was happening in calypso. It’s difficult to name any big-name calypsonian, especially within the last 15 to 20 years, that Elsworth didn’t bring to Toronto. And he didn’t limit it to Trinidad; he mixed it up and included other islands such as Grenada and Barbados.”
“You got to give the man his credit,” Gomez said. “As far as Canada is concerned, there’s no one else who comes even close to Elsworth James when it comes to promoting calypso. He brought the big names to the city, but he did not neglect the Canadian calypsonians and we’ve got to be really thankful for that.”
James, from having a high profile on the entertainment promotion circuit in Toronto, seemed to have disappeared to many friends and supporters, until the family went public in late 2020 disclosing that James was diagnosed in 2017 with dementia. James, his wife said, wanted to keep his illness “private”, and she “wanted to protect him”.
James said at the time: “I have the love and support of my wonderful wife and children, who are taking great care of me”.
James, as a calypsonian, has had several memorable compositions including “I Love Calypso Music”, “Pan from Heaven”, and the 1984 “Afeisha” – a tribute to the birth of his daughter of the same name.
“Caribbean culture has grown to what it is today because Elsworth James planted those seeds,” said daughter Afeisha James-Kipps. “He gave a platform to many entertainers who otherwise would never have been seen and, potentially, never would have reached their international greatness and potential.” 
Gomez said one of his favourite songs is “Minister Farrakhan”. It was written by James, who sang it with Liberty Silver.
“One of his most outstanding achievements, for me, was his tribute to Farrakhan,” said Gomez, who referred to James as “a very strong community person and a very proud Black man”.
Trinidad-born Jai Ojah-Maharaj, a broadcaster who has promoted calypso and Caribbean culture on Toronto airwaves for more than four decades, shared similar sentiments on James’ personality.
“He was humble yet brash, but very focused on promoting the calypso and soca arts. Nothing separated him from promoting calypso and soca,” Ojah-Maharaj said in an interview with Share.
James’s family, in the Facebook posting, encouraged friends and supporters “to remember Elsworth for his work to elevate calypso music, and his own electric performances. But, most of all, remember his 1,000-watt smile, his grace under fire and his love for community. Elsworth’s life was a blessing and his memory is our treasure”.
They promised that “funeral details will be announced as soon as they are available.
“We appreciate all expressions of support but we ask for a little time to come to terms with our loss as a family”.

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