This is a throwback to an article I did for the Calypso Association 50th anniversary magazine in 2007. In the interest of increasing awareness of the accomplishments of some of our iconic calypsonians and increasing appreciation for the art form, I figured I would share some of that issue with you. This particular article looked at the Anchors of Antiguan calypso – not the superstars covered in Over the Boundary but the reliable contributors known for their consistent play, providing a strong foundation for the growth of the art form. in this post, I’ll share the section of that article focused on Franco (who recently passed). DO NOT repost without permission or credit.
Frank Reynolds, Franco, has never worn the monarch crown, but when he took to the stage during 2004’s Reunion of Kings show to sing ‘Yes, we are Ready’, the crowd’s response was no less electric. From the 1960s to the 1980s, as a consistent finalist except for a couple of years when he didn’t make the cut, he etched out a place in the hearts of Calypso fans at home and abroad.
His self-described “sweet voice” is key. His peers agree. Destroyer recently said, “I believe Antigua’s best Calypso singer is Franco”; and Bottle, another veteran, said, separately, when asked to name his favourites, “Franco has a tremendous voice.”
The critics, too, have complemented his instrument; D. Gisele Isaac once describing him as “one of the country’s best voices.”
Dorbrene O’Marde, in 1987’s Calypso Talk, went beyond voice to the use to which it was put by an artist who understood his craft. He wrote, “Young Calypsonians will benefit from listening to the way he phrases his lyrics because Franco is a ‘Calypsonian’. There are many who sing to a Calypso beat without demonstrating that style of delivery which differentiates Calypso from ballad or gospel or other music forms.”
For his part, Franco can’t say where the talent comes from; but he remembers displaying it early during his boyhood days. “I used to sing Calypso on the street corner for the guys,” he said. “I used to love Blakey, that nice high-pitched voice.”
He entered the arena in ’69 with ‘Let us Live Together’
“Come let us reason together
For without understanding
This nation will go to ruin”
It’s still one of his favourites and quite similar in sentiment to the later ‘Yes, We are Ready’. But it’s the more irreverent ‘Fork up the Land’ of the 1970s that’s his most popular tune, by his own assessment. He reflected that it held the number one spot on New York’s WLIB for a time.
His Calypso career also includes stretches performing in New York and at Kitchener’s tent in Trinidad. So, does it irk, just a little, to have never worn the crown? Franco’s answer: “The public is the one I set out to please at all times when I’m doing Calypso. Even though I never won the crown, I always try to put my best foot forward.”
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