Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music


TIGER, Growling

(b Neville Marcano, 5 March '16, Diego Martin, Trinidad; d '93, Trinidad) Calypsonian. As a boy he was an exponent of outlawed stick fighting or kalinda (and accompanying songs) and bongo (drum dance performed at wakes). Left school '27, apprenticed as a tailor, cabinet-maker and mechanic; other jobs incl. oilfield and sugar factory worker. A boxer at 13, the 'Siparia Tiger' became bantam-weight champion of Trinidad '29; worked in soda factories between fights. Befriended Lord Beginner (Egbert Moore), who encouraged him to start singing. Unemployed and penniless early '34, he gained admission to a calypso tent by pretending to be a calypsonian; wooed the audience with a Beginner tune and even won the 'war' (extemporized exchanges between calypsonians); given food and writing materials by shopkeeper Mr Mentor to write a calypso about water scheme workers striking for more pay; performed it in the tent that evening. Mentor showed him a newspaper story about Atilla the Hun and Roaring Lion going to NYC to record; he decided he wanted to go there and that becoming a top calypsonian was the only way to do it. Entered competition in San Fernando a few months later to write and sing a calypso about the death of noted athlete/aviator Mikey Cipriani in air crash, tied with Atilla for second place; in second contest in Port of Spain (POS) he won with the same calypso, calling himself Growling Tiger. Made calypso tent debut in POS during '35 season, had big success with Depression classic 'Money Is King'. Businessman Eduardo Sa Gomes sent him with Atilla and Beginner to NYC to record for Decca; made seven solo sides incl. 'Money Is King'; returned '36 with Lion and King Radio (Norman Span); set unbeaten record at NYC's Decca studios that year by making 32 masters in one take incl. 'The Gold In Africa' about Italian invasion of Ethiopia. Rejected Sa Gomes's exploitative offer to record for Decca in NYC '37 in favour of a better deal to record in Trinidad with Bluebird; however both labels' shipments were dumped in the sea by Customs due to alleged inclusion of 'immoral' songs; returned to Decca '38 (to record locally) as Sa Gomes matched Bluebird's deal. Toured Barbados and Guyana various times '39--55, incl. taking Mighty Sparrow for his overseas debut in Guyana '54. Won Trinidad's first National Calypso King contest '39 with 'Try And Join A Labour Union'. Though Carnival was suspended during WWII, tents were allowed to entertain US forces based in Trinidad; Tiger's and others incomes improved somewhat. Produced own cabaret show The Emancipation Of A Slave '45 at Brooklyn's Calypso Club, which ran for three months. Slander case against him and tent for performance of 'Daniel Must Go' '50 (about a senior education official convicted of drunken driving) was dropped on a technicality. Had first experience as tent organizer/manager '38; post-war he managed POS's Calypso Club and booked calypso acts (incl. Sparrow) for POS's Dirty Jim Swizzle night club '55; hired to select calypsonians for Young Brigade tent '56, from where Sparrow catapulted on to the scene that season. A staunch traditionalist in the face of the post-WWII new wave, he fell from favour by daring to address the secret marriage scandal of unassailable nationalist leader Dr Eric Williams in 'The Doc's Wedding' '59; an alleged boycott by Williams's People's National Movement forced the premature closure of the tent where Tiger performed his reportedly 'instantaneous hit' only once; stigmatized by this event, he retired from tents '60. Remained active as songwriter for other performers and made occasional Carnival show and concert appearances; as elected president of Calypsonians' Association '73--4 (and again '82) he initiated government-run Carnival Development Committee's Calypso Tent as a showcase for veterans and newcomers. Appeared at Newport Folk Festival '66; made LP Knockdown Calypsos '79 (reissued '90) for Rounder, re-creating instrumentation and style of '30s--40s, incl. 'Water Scheme Labourers' Strike' and 'Money Is King', with backing largely of NYC Latin musicians. Original recordings of 'Money Is King' and 'Gold In Africa' in Arhoolie collection Calypsos From Trinidad In The 1930s '91; other sides (incl. duo and trio recordings) in compilations Calypso Pioneers 1912--1937 '89 and Calypso Breakaway 1927--1941 '90 on Rounder, Calypso Ladies '91 on Heritage, 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. Trinidad company Canboulay Productions published book No Surrender: A Biography Of The Growling Tiger '94 by playwright/teacher Rawle Gibbons.