Celebrating Dr. Prince Ramsey; RIP, Sir.

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Calypso writer/producer Dr. Prince Ramsey receiving a lifetime achievement award at the National Vibes Star Project Awards (held one time in 2006). – photo by Joanne C. Hillhouse

And so news comes (sadly) of the passing of Sir Dr. Prince Ramsey, an Antiguan and Barbudan (and wider Caribbean) medical doctor by profession, and, by calling and choosing, an HIV/AIDS activist and cultural actor (as songwriter, producer, and, yes, actor in the film No Seed – as a producer on that film I remember being on set that day through take after take as we filmed him playing a doctor delivering bad news to our main character). I’ve been fortunate to know him professionally (having interviewed him and artistes he worked with, wrote, produced for, and financed over the years) and socially (one of my favourite Old Year’s Night parties was at his house), and I am surprised (notwithstanding knowing that he had battled illness in recent years) and sorry to hear of his passing.

The Caribbean News Service reports that he died today (Friday 3rd May 2019) and leaves a legacy that includes “pioneering HIV services for pregnant women in the Caribbean”, and in 2018 received the UN Population Award for his various achievements. Those achievements include HIV/AIDS education and assisting people living with the virus with accessing the drugs that meant the difference between life and death.

Calypso fans will remember where his advocacy vis-à-vis HIV and his passion for calypso intersected with the Dr. Ramsey-penned and produced ‘Protect Yourself’ which won (in 2002) a second and final calypso monarch crown for Zero, a calypsonian living with the disease (a fact that added power and poignancy to the lyrics – while my interview with Zero about this song and his battle with the disease won me a PAHO Media Award).

‘Protect Yourself’ (lyrics):

We may not know just how AIDS began
but we surely know the mode of transmission
sexual encounter without protection
so we are exposed to this infection
some pregnant still refuse testing
some insist on breastfeeding
even the unborn exposed to this virus
that’s affecting all of us

cho.
If this turns out to be my last song
let the message still live on
the first disease of mankind
where the cure is so hard to find
aids have scientist baffled
so your life is not to be raffled
why take a chance for just one moment of bliss
you weren’t born to die like this
I sing this song with sincerity
I want the whole world to hear me
promiscuity ruins your health
protect yourself

In spite of all the sex education
AIDS still expand through migration
with inequality and pockets of poverty
it still remains a human tragedy
it is the worst plague to affect mankind
but the first one we can confine
the black plague and Spanish flu kill so much people
this virus worse than these two

cho.

if you want to live to a ripe old age
control your life at an early stage
promiscuous behaviour
dirty needles you use
to use a condom some bluntly refuse
all of us like moments of pleasure
we don’t care what happen after
unfortunately you test positive
life is now a pain to live

cho.

AIDS is a disease the world must confront
our sexual behavior got to be different
no more running around from partner to partner
otherwise we go have an AIDS disaster
I feel so obliged to make this statement to offer enlightenment
this killer virus cause so much suffering and pain
that ‘s why I join the campaign

cho.

We are fortunate that ABS TV in the last year did a retrospective on Dr. Ramsey’s career in calypso.

It’s worth watching in full for a complete understanding of Dr. Ramsey’s investment in calypso including producing the Wadadli Gold and Wadadli Diamond albums in the late 70s/early 80s which gave a platform to artistes like Douglas, Redding, Calypso Jim, Dr. Solo, Chalice (whose classic ‘Nightmare Party’ was part of these recordings) – financing not only the albums but the promotional tours; producing classic albums by one of Antiguan calypso’s big three King Obstinate (who describes him as “a great producer”) especially his 40th anniversary album and commemorative booklet in the 1990s but also earlier albums like ‘Believe’; his work with at the time former Burning Flames frontman King Onyan (which, if I’m remembering correctly is the only collaboration he ever profited from, according to him) – a partnership that yielded back to back to back calypso monarch crowns.

Some quotes from the ABS TV doc:

“I have been probably the most successful artiste that he’s ever worked with. …when I went solo, I approached him about being my manager and he was the only one that was very willing to assist me at the time … and from then he has become a friend, a brother, uncle, father, everything in one, and we have had that not only musical relationship, we have had that very friendly relationship and I find in all honesty he’s probably the most honest person I’ve ever met… and when I embarked on ‘Crazy Man’ he was the one who encouraged me to enter the calypso competition which was not on my plate…’Crazy Man’ went on, we won the competition, then we came back again, and since then all of my competition songs have been written by Dr. Ramsey. And I’d like to say he’s probably one of the best writers and the biggest song as a local competition calypso song ‘Stand up for Antigua’ was written by him…it’s going to be hard for another song to become a national anthem like that.” – King Onyan

“We worked well together and you don’t have to worry about it; if he’s going to work with you, he works with you – whether it’s financial or getting the bookings, making sure you get paid. He’s a very principled man and I admire that about him.” – King Obstinate

“I’m sure that most persons would know that he has written maybe over a thousand songs  cause he’s worked far and wide so he writes all different types of calypso – social,  political, humorous.” – De Pan Man, who also spoke personally of Dr. Ramsey’s philanthropy, the money he invested beyond the artistes he worked with directly

“I don’t know if I can ever reach that stage again in terms of lyrical content, melody. Dr. Ramsey did that.” – De Bear re his Dr. Ramsey-penned song ‘Man is Dust’ which captured the 2007 Leeward Islands Calypso title

“In my estimation he could have built 10, 20 30 houses but he chose to put his all into calypso in terms of producing the music and ensuring the survival of calypso.” – Dr. Solo

“Year after year, whether it’s Onyan or the Bear or Solo, Progress or Zero; he worked with some ladies also – Althea, Lady Smooth, even Stabba out of Barbuda…there is nothing to describe Dr. Ramsey for the work and the contribution he has done for the art form, for calypso, for calypsonians here in Antigua and Barbuda.” – Kenny Nibbs, veteran DJ

If you’ve read Jamaica Kincaid’s My Brother, you’ve seen her speak positively of Dr. Ramsey and his efforts vis-à-vis health care and HIV/AIDS – notwithstanding her usual criticisms of the island as a whole.

He inspired that kind of response. Clearly.

Dr. Ramsey began writing calypso while still a medical student overseas and wrote his first song for local competition, in 1979. His iconic songs are many – Onyan’s ‘Criteria’, Obsti’s ‘Sugar Bowl’, Baba Blaize’s ‘In Antigua (we wake up to the sun)’ – having produced over 45 albums for various artistes. All of this with no formal training in music. Dr. Ramsey is a Carnival Lifetime Achievement honoree among many other accolades – local, regional, and international – in not only calypso but the medical field.

He remained gracious through it all, saying in one interview, “I don’t have the talent or the gift. I have a passion for calypso. People like Shelly Tobitt, they have a gift. I gave Shelly a song one time and he sat down and played the guitar and came up with the melody right there. That’s a gift. I can’t do that. People like Onyan can do that.”

Well, if you’ve watched the ABS TV doc (or even just read this far) you know Onyan and others return the sentiments re Dr. Ramsey’s gift – and more important than that that there was no more stand-up guy.

He will be missed, but his contribution lives on.

As with all content on wadadlipen.wordpress.com, except otherwise noted, this is written by Joanne C. Hillhouse (author of The Boy from Willow Bend, Dancing Nude in the Moonlight, Musical Youth, With Grace, Lost! A Caribbean Sea Adventure, and Oh Gad!). All Rights Reserved. If you enjoyed it, check out my page on Amazon, WordPress, and/or Facebook, and help spread the word about Wadadli Pen, my books, and my freelance writing-editing-coaching-workshop services. You can also subscribe to the site to keep up with future updates. Thanks.

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