Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music


LION, Roaring

(b Hubert Raphael Charles, Feb. '10, Belmont, Port of Spain, Trinidad; renamed Raphael Charles de Leon c'51, then Rafael Arias Cairi Llama de Leon early '60s) Calypsonian, former clarinettist; among first generation to record during calypso's so-called '30s--'40s 'Golden Age', still active in '90s; versatile calypsonian with a penchant for bawdy calypsos; always a snappy dresser: described as the Beau Brummel of calypso by Atilla the Hun (Raymond Quevedo). Lion's personal accounts of his early career vary, but probably debuted c'29 in a small beginners' calypso tent in Belmont. Dubbed Lion Flaps c'31 by Lord Beginner (Egbert Moore: 1904-- 80); changed to the Roaring Metro Lion '33 when he joined 'Chieftain' Walter Douglas's Railroad Millionaires 'Crystal Palace' tent. Had prevailing unofficial Road March (or leggo as it was known then) most years '34--8 with 'Wanga' '34, 'Advantage Mussolini' '36 (bouncy condemnation of Italian Fascists' '35 invasion of Abyssinia [Ethiopia], set to the melody of Don Azpiaz£'s international '31 Cuban hit 'El Manisero', 'The Peanut Vendor'), 'Ask No Questions' '36 (recorded in a trio with King Radio and Growling Tiger), 'Netty, Netty' '37, 'Nora Darling' '38. He and Atilla were the first local artists sent to NYC to record '34 by local Portuguese businessman Eduardo Sa Gomes; Bing Crosby and Rudy Vallee attended the sessions. During the trip Lion performed 'Ugly Woman' on Vallee's network radio show, the appearance celebrated in duo's calypso 'Guests Of Rudy Vallee' '38, and entertained President Roosevelt at NYC's Waldorf Astoria hotel. He continued to record annually in NYC from '36 until sessions were curtailed '42 due to WWII, making 95 sides in total. Early victim of record bans by colonial authorities: 'Netty, Netty' was banned '36 by Commissioner of Police on grounds of 'immorality'; Collector of Customs dumped entire first shipment of the record in Port of Spain Harbour; however the will of Carnival revellers prevailed over censorship the following year when they made 'Netty, Netty' the Road March. Following Atilla's election to Trinidad and Tobago's (T&T) Legislative Council '50, he singled out 'Netty, Netty' in his historical speech '51 attempting to move an amendment to the notorious Theatre and Dance Halls Ordinance '34, used to regulate the performance of calypso during colonial days: 'The police heard ''Netty, Netty, gie me de ting you have in you belly.'' And they said they wanted the words changed to: ''Netty, Netty, give me the article in your abdomen.'' (Laughter) That is a singular injustice' (quote from Hansard). Lion copped another ban '37 for the alleged obscenity of 'Sally Water'.

Despite his brushes with authority, he was hired as official entertainer of Governors and visiting VIPs at T&T's Government House '37--44. His 'Whoopsin'' became Road March of '41 Carnival; the Governor banned Carnival '42--5 because of WWII; Lion's 'Mary Ann' (with lyrics referring to VJ Day, was overwhelming leggo of Trinidad's VE and VJ celebrations '45) became Road March of the reinstated festival. Sir Lancelot (Trinidad-born Lancelot Victor Edward Pinard) sang Lion's 'Ugly Woman' in US movie Happy Go Lucky '43 starring Dick Powell and Mary Martin. Regarded as having reached the zenith of his career in '45, that year did simultaneous residencies at Village Vanguard and Blue Angel clubs in NYC (replaced at Village Vanguard by Harry Belafonte, who later performed Lion's 'He Came From The Glorious Kingdom'); opened Calypsoville club in Gonzalez, Trinidad, during post-war '40s, there performed for visiting celebrities and tourists; paved the way for other calypsonians after being the first to entertain Trinidad's elite at the exclusive Country Club. Visited UK '51 with Trinidad All Star Steel Percussion Orchestra to represent T&T at Festival of Britain, remained twelve years; soon began performing in major English cities and on the Continent. Recorded for Parlophone, Melodisc and Calypso Time, notably 'Ugly Woman', 'Mary Ann' (both on Parlophone '51), 'Trinidad, The Land Of Calypso' '54, others. Founded the Coloured People's Accommodation Bureau to help West Indian and African immigrants settle in the UK; started a black cosmetics business, Rafael de Lion Beauty Products, which supplied UK, Caribbean and African markets. Encouraged to return to contribute to post- Independence T&T in late '63, but became disillusioned by what he regarded as inconsiderate government treatment. Appeared in Mighty Sparrow's Original Young Brigade tent and Regal Tent; retired from tent performances during '70s, but remained active as a lecturer, journalist and broadcaster on calypso; published book Calypso From France To Trinidad -- 800 Years Of History '87 controversially challenging the view that calypso is of African origin; became a T&T lottery agent selling tickets outside Independence Square branch of Republic Bank in Port of Spain. Sporadically recorded, incl. singles 'Carnival Long Ago' '75, 'Welcome To Pope John Paul II' '85 on WIRL, which he performed for the Pope during his visit to T&T during '85 Carnival season. Appeared in an interview with Sparrow and Lord Kitchener in BBC2's Arena presentation All On A Mardi Gras Day '88; sang 'Jail Them' in video release Calypso Season '89 on PMV (track incl. in UK compilation with same title on London '89); did 14-date UK tour '91 with Lord Pretender culminating at Notting Hill Carnival. Made comeback with album Roaring Loud, Standing Proud '93 on Ice featuring soca-ized remakes of previous hits incl. 'Netty, Netty' (a hit all over again during '93 Carnival season), 'Sally Water', 'Nora Darling'; had hit during '95 season with revamp of 'Papa Chunks' '41 (in Viva Le King '95 on Ice), featuring Nigel Lewis, future winner of '96 Road March. Sacred 78's '94 in Ice's Caribbean Classic Series compiles classic '30s--50s sides; original '30s sides (incl. duo and trio recordings) in various artists' collections Calypsos From Trinidad In The 1930s '91 on Arhoolie, Calypso Breakaway 1927--1941 '90 on Rounder, Calypso Ladies '91 on Heritage, Trinidad 1912--1941 '92 on Harlequin, History Of Carnival 1933--1939 and Trinidad Loves To Play Carnival 1914-- 1939 on Matchbox '93, Calypso Carnival 1936--1941 and Calypso Calaloo on Rounder '93.