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Calypso and Calypsonians in North America, 1934-1961

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Sometimes I Feel Like a Fatherless Child

Posted by Michael Eldridge on June 17, 2012

There are all kinds of fathers in the world.  After playing the role for nine years myself, I know how easy it is to fall short of every possible paternal ideal.  And after losing my own dad last fall (he stayed strong and healthy before cancer finally caught up with him at age 96), I also know how hard it is to get your progenitor out of your head.

Lord Caresser (Rufus Callender) wasn’t exactly a model family man: he sired children in several countries, and eventually, an increasingly disturbed soul, he walked away from his wife and sons in Montreal.  It seems that he, too, was haunted by the specter of his father—in his case, a father he barely knew.  Born in Venezuela, Caresser was raised, like plenty of West Indians, by strong women.  His mother reportedly died when he was four years old, at which point he was shipped back to Trinidad to live with a grandmother and, later, an aunt.  But his dad remained an enigma, a blank figure whose anonymity Caresser explored in an uncharacteristically autobiographical calypso from the mid-1940s:

Caresser, "I Ain't Got No Papa"

Lord Caresser, “I Ain’t Got No Papa” (ca. 1945).  Library and Archives Canada: George Robertson Fonds, Container 24, File 12

As a meditation on Caribbean colonial identity, Caresser’s lyric is right up there with Atilla the Hun’s “No Nationality” (or even George Lamming’s In the Castle of My Skin).  But as an expression of the sense of orphanhood we feel when our folks are gone, it’s more poignant still.  “I would like to behold him with my eyes….”  Me, too.

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3 Responses to “Sometimes I Feel Like a Fatherless Child”

  1. I MET LORD CARESSER IN MOTREAL WHERE HE WAS PERFOMING..THAT WAS GREAT AS I WAS ALSO PERFORMING AT ANOTHER CLUB
    .WE HAD A GOOD TIME TOGETHER WITH SOME GOOD OLD TALK.”BANDIT”

  2. P H said

    Is it known whether Caresser ever recorded this composition? I haven’t seen post-1940 recordings by him anywhere. I figured those included on “West Indian Rhythm” were the last ones he ever made. It’d be marvellous to hear these words sung by the man who “seldom smiled, so he gave one the feeling he was an unfriendly person” (The Lion’s words).

    • That sounds like an apt appraisal! To my knowledge Caresser never released any commercial recordings after 1940, no. The CBC has only one 15-minute recording of his radio show (it includes four or five tunes, some of which were new), and he also cut two unreleased sides for a Swedish jazz label in 1949. As far as I know, that’s the end of his recorded output.

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