Calls for King Short Shirt to be named a national hero as he marks 80th birthday

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Noted calypsonian Sir McLean “King Short Shirt” Emanuel. For decades, Sir McLean rocked crowds with his powerful social commentaries (Photo courtesy Discogs)
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By Kadeem Joseph

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Renowned calypso icon Sir McLean “King Short Shirt” Emanuel, who is known for his melodic voice and showmanship on the stage, could become the country’s newest national hero – a possibility he has characterised as a “blessing”.

For decades, Sir McLean rocked crowds with powerful social commentaries like ‘Power and Authority’, and ‘Lamentation’, and up-tempo hits such as ‘Tourist Leggo’ and ‘Vivian Richards’, with enchanting vocal stylings complemented by his captivating fashion.

Discussions over possibly making the cultural ambassador the country’s seventh national hero come amid celebrations of the singer’s 80th birthday, which was marked on Monday.

Among those calling for the honour is former calypso monarch Glenmore ‘King Progress’ Sheppard, who made the appeal on Sunday at the Spring Gardens Moravian Church during a service celebrating King Short Shirt.

“Sir McLean’s amazing list of achievements, his impressive body of work, the impact his songs have had on the growth and development of Antigua and Barbuda, the fight carried on behalf of the poor, oppressed and downtrodden, his invaluable contribution to Carnival, the hero worship that is evident wherever he performs, make him highly deserving,” he said as justification for his suggestion.

King Progress’s recommendation was welcomed by Prime Minister Gaston Browne, who also spoke at the service.

“I do believe that Sir McLean is deserving of the title of national hero,” he said. “I am aware that an application was made to the National Honours Committee and we hope they will do justice to the king.”

Should the committee accept the nomination, King Short Shirt would become the first entertainer to receive the country’s highest honour.

When asked about the potential of being named a national hero, Emmanuel said the prospect has been on his mind before.

“It was always in my mind that I am at that point where my contribution would say that I deserve that title,” he said, recounting that about 25 years ago he made an album dubbed National Hero. “I really want to give thanks if it comes to pass.”

Sir McLean said such an honour would be an asset to his life and a blessing to his family.

The “No Body Go Run Me” singer was speaking during a state media interview on Monday morning at his beachfront property Shorty’s Beach Bar, where family, friends, well-wishers and entertainers gathered to pay homage to the icon.

During the celebration, Sir McLean was also presented with the title deed for the land he has occupied at Halcyon Beach for almost 50 years.

He thanked Prime Minister Gaston Brown who presented the land certificate on behalf of the Minister of Lands.

In addressing how he would want to be remembered, Emanuel said he is hopeful that the property would someday become a museum of sorts, the proceeds from which could go to community development. 

King Short Shirt has amassed some 28 titles during his career and has been credited with elevating Antigua and Barbuda’s calypso offerings on a regional level.

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