THE TERM “Gem Gone” held a different meaning yesterday when Barbadians learnt of the death of beloved calypsonian Charles “Romeo” Smith.
Affectionately known as the Love Man, Romeo died of a suspected heart attack in the early hours of yesterday at his St George home. By his side was his wife of 48 years, Cecily, who said that around 4:30 a.m., he complained of feeling unwell.
As the news spread, condolences flooded social media as colleagues, friends and fans wished his family well and shared some of their fondest memories.
Cultural Ambassador Anthony “Gabby” Carter was deeply emotional. The two shared a friendship of 59 years that began as classmates at Leonard’s Boys’ School, and they subsequently married two cousins.
The many-time calypso king credited Romeo for his start in the artform, recounting that it was Romeo who brought him into the fold at the age of 17 in 1965. Three years later when he won his first crown, it was Romeo, who was known for his dapper suits, who gave him the clothes to wear so he could appear on stage.
Sharing the last conversation they engaged in on Tuesday, Gabby described the 70-year-old as his brother and one of the best and consistent entertainers, though underrated.
“He sent me a message at 12:44 and it said: ‘Congratulations my friend and brother. You, Dr Carter, is the best entertainer that this precious rock Barbados has ever produced and I am very honoured to be associated with you and be a part of your successful journey. So I do hope and pray that you will have continued success; well deserved’. I wrote back and said, ‘Thank you, Charley . . . we still have work to do”,” Gabby recounted to the DAILY NATION before breaking down in tears.
Another schoolmate, veteran entertainer Richard “Dick” Stoute, remembered their time singing in the school’s choir, adding that Romeo was a builder of calypso in Barbados. Whether it was as a member of Battleground, Untouchables and Bacchanal calypso tents, or simply sharing his wisdom with other artistes, Stoute stressed that Romeo’s contributions were tremendous.
There were many things Stoute said he would remember about Romeo, but most notable was his smile as well as his love and respect for others.
“Romey was that kind of fellow; he carried a good heart. So the Love Man was an appropriate name for him – he had a love in his heart for everyone. Only recently I heard him on the radio speaking to Larry Mayers and he was so upbeat and sounded so refreshing; making a lot of sense. It is a very sad day for us. I just hope that his family will take it well and ask God to direct them,” Stoute said.
Guitarist and arranger Mike Sealy, who worked with Romeo on several songs through the years, was also grieved by the news. He said aside for his love for family and music, Romeo was also very proud about his journey in Christianity.
Devotion to religion
Sealy said that only last Friday when Romeo and his son visited him, they joked about his devotion to religion.
“He was very devout. Romey was a joy to work with. He was humble. He was a good friend,” he added.
Romeo was also much loved among the younger crop of entertainers, with some like Barry Chandler remaking his classic hits.
For rising star Rhea Williams, his death was the loss of not only a great lyricist and performer, but an astute mentor. She recalled meeting him for the first time as a doubtful teenaged aspiring soca artiste, and it was his encouraging words that motivated her.
“I was about 19 years old, it was at a Crop Over Cavalcade and after I came off the stage, he said to me, ‘You have a lot of talent; just sing ya song and smile’. I didn’t have a lot of interaction with him but he was one of the calypsonians whose words of encouragement stuck with me throughout the years,” the now 30-year-old said. “I think the whole calypso fraternity has lost a great one.”
Newly-appointed Minister of Creative Economy, Culture and Sports John King also expressed condolences, describing him as “one of the great pioneers of calypso in Barbados”.
King, a former Pic-O-De-Crop monarch, said that as a young artiste, Romeo always stressed to him the importance of being well dressed, adding that Romeo was always dressed “sharp, sharp, sharp”.
He maintained that Romeo’s body of work spoke for itself. “I think that when the historians begin to write, that his name will be mentioned in a good place as one of the pioneers. But also if you study his work, some of the things that he sang, he used Barbadian dialect well, he used Barbadian sayings. Romeo was such a gem.”
The minister said he hoped “all Barbadians remember that we have lost a great son of the soil”, and hinted at plans to honour him during the upcoming Crop Over Festival.