In a near three-hour long memorial service held yesterday for the late calypso icon Sandra “Singing Sandra” Des Vignes-Millington at the Queen’s Hall, in St Ann’s, Port-of-Spain, tributes in song, dance, written expressions, and even extempo came filing in for the woman they all affectionately called “Mother.”
The service was attended by several of Des Vignes-Millington’s colleagues in the fraternity, as well as Government Ministers including Social Development and Family Services Minister, Donna Cox, Minister in the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development, Adrian Leonce and Minister of Tourism, Culture and the Arts Randall Mitchell.
Honouring cultural icons
like Singing Sandra
Bringing greetings on behalf of his Ministry, Mitchell who described Des Vignes-Millington’s death as the loss of a “gifted daughter and national treasure,” announced plans to develop and implement a National Cultural Policy that will serve to ensure the hard work of cultural artistes did not go in vain. He said with such a policy artistes will be recognised while they are alive.
As the Minister entrusted with the care of T&T’s culture, Mitchell said, “I want to ensure that we value Singing Sandra’s contribution and others like her and want to ensure that our artistes are recognised long before such a time like this.”
He added, “This is why we are in the process of implementing a national cultural policy to ensure that artistes are appreciated for their work.”
He said the idea of the policy is to reward and encourage cultural and artistic expressions recognising that the country’s artistes were constantly innovating.
But during his tribute to his old friend, National Carnival Commission (NCC) chairman Winston “Gypsy” Peters appealed to Mitchell to keep the promises made to members of the cultural fraternity and to not let emotion be the impetus for the proposed National Cultural Policy.
Peters told Mitchell that promise had been made throughout the years and was always said on the occasion of the death of one of the country’s cultural ambassadors. He said while all the tributes were beautiful, the questions remained: “Where were we before now? Why our absence in the lives of so many who have done so much for our country, when they need us most?”
“Minister I really appreciate the fact and I like what you say. But to say to you that it is not for the first time I am hearing that. I have been in this business for over 50 years and I have been hearing it for longer than that. All the things that we are going to do for this fraternity and it is always said on occasions like these when the person lies in the coffin and our emotion run high and their significance is magnified in a way that we extol their virtues and talk about all the things that we are going to do. Have we done it? And if not what has prevented us from doing it all these years,” he asked.
Peters said members of the cultural fraternity did yeoman service through the arts without appreciation but did it nonetheless.
“This fraternity of ours has done yeoman service for Trinidad and Tobago and continue to do. All be it, that we have done it silently, but my dear brothers and sisters we have done it nonetheless,” said Peters.
However, in a subsequent interview with Mitchell, he said Peters’ comments took him by surprise and wreaked hypocrisy since during Peters’ tenure as Minister of Culture under the Peoples Partnership Government, he did not put anything in place to recognise the achievements of those outstanding persons in the cultural arena.
Referring to the National Cultural Policy, Mitchell said it was only under the PNM administration beginning in 2015 and continuing now, the void had been acknowledged and mechanisms were being put in place to honour the country’s cultural icons.
“This is solid policy crafting and implementation of a mechanism to recognise those who have made our culture richer through their excellent contributions.”
A call for Singing Sandra
to be immortalised
Before performing powerful renditions of “Die with My Dignity” and “Ambataila Woman”, Marva “Marvelous Marva” Joseph, close friend, spiritual sister and former member of the United Sisters, of which Des Vignes-Millington founded, brought a moving tribute.
In a teary tone, she reminisced on the times past when she first met Des Vignes-Millington, their years travelling and performing together as the United Sisters, and the last words spoken to her by her beloved friend.
“A few days before Sandra left, she called my phone and she said, ‘leh me tell yuh something.’ She say, ‘yuh know I does get all my inspiration from you yuh know…I does get all my vibes from you.’ She say ‘but ah going to d hospital to get some tests done and when I comes back, I want to spend a day with you.’ She never came back but she came back in spirit,” said Joseph.
Joseph called on Mitchell to preserve the memory of Des Vignes-Millington with the creation of a monument.
“Sandra will be missed for years and years. Mr Minister, I am asking you one favour. You have to have a monument for Sandra. Build a monument for Sandra,” she implored.
Sandra, walked in the spirit
Trinbago Unified Calypsonian Organisation (TUCO ) President Lutalo “Brother Resistance” Masimba, while ringing his signature bell praised Des Vignes-Millington for her contribution to the art form and said Des Vignes-Millington was a woman who walked in the spirit of the oral tradition whose ancestral ties ran deep.
“Calypso claim she and embrace she and lift she up, and show she the world. But Calypso itself might not even know, how deep her spirit comes from. So when she call for the ancient rhythms to make her dance. It wasn’t just a call for a song to be on a show,” said Masimba.
The service was also attended by several other fellow artistes in the industry, including Austin “Super Blue” Lyons, Hollis “Chalkdust” Liverpool, Winston “Explainer” Henry, and Michael “Sugar Aloes” Osuna who performed a rendition of the Slinger “Mighty Sparrow” Francisco’s, Memories.
Tributes from cultural ambassadors from the Caribbean region and abroad were also read at the service including greetings from the Calypso Rose.
The memorial service concluded with the viewing of Des Vignes-Millington’s body.