The nation bids farewell to Sir Rupert ‘King Swallow’ Philo

Hundreds paid their final respects to Sir Rupert “King Swallow” Philo during a moving ceremony at Sir Vivian Richards Cricket Ground yesterday. His body was later interred at the community cemetery in Willikies, the village where he was born, raised, lived and died. (Photo by Carlena Knight)
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By Carlena Knight

It was a day filled with tears, laughter, pain and some joy, yesterday, as the twin island nation laid one of its greatest calypsonians, Sir Rupert “King Swallow” Philo, to rest.

Family members, friends, villagers, fans, calypsonians, soca artistes, cricketing greats and politicians alike crowded the historical Sir Vivian Richards Cricket Ground Monday morning to bid their final farewells to their ‘hero’, ‘mentor’, ‘father’ and ‘close friend’.

Over his illustrious career, Sir Rupert was known for his delivery of local social and political commentary in song, was a highly acclaimed artiste who performed on the regional and international stage with his soca hits such as Fire in the Backseat, Subway Jam, Party In Space and Satan Coming Down. He earned several calypso crowns during his career and was a five-time Road March winner.

He was awarded the Order of Merit and the Grand Cross of Princely Heritage and in November 2011 he was named Knight Commander of the Most Distinguished Order of the Nation (KCN).

Among the hundreds who attended his funeral yesterday were some who sought to pay tribute to the son of the soil, including his longtime friend and calypso rival, Sir MacLean “King Short Shirt” Emmanuel.

“May my brother rest in peace and may the good Lord bless you until we meet again. We had our times together, we enjoyed each other but now it’s time for us to depart. My brother Rupert ‘King Swallow’ Philo, may the Almighty God take you in his arms,” Sir MacLean said.

Governor General Sir Rodney Williams who was Sir Rupert’s physician for some time, also delivered a tribute to his departed friend.

“I was pleased to have served as Sir Rupert’s personal physician and friend. During my tenure as the minister with responsibility for cCulture, I also got to know the musical side of this giant of a man. Our friendship was such that as soon as I was appointed as the Governor General of Antigua and Barbuda, Sir Rupert sought me out and shared his intentions to stage a concert at Government House to assist me in raising funds to restore one of our nation’s heritage treasures. Unfortunately, the plans could not be implemented only because of ill health. Sir Rupert ‘King Swallow’ Philo will be greatly missed and his contribution to music and his homeland of Antigua and Barbuda will be etched in the annals of history,” Sir Rodney said.

Prime Minister Gaston Browne, who recently visited Sir Rupert at his home, also paid homage to the calypsonian.

“Sir Rupert Philo is one of those rare gems who made an appearance on the cultural scene and has now left us. He will surely be missed. His talent and genius songs were as such often emulated but never duplicated. In a world filled with many colourful and melodious birds such as canaries and sparrows and in a world that a dove and pigeon were two good companions, there could only be one Swallow,” Browne stated.

Minister of Culture Daryll Matthew also paid tribute.

“Sir Rupert’s death one month ago has caused the nation of Antigua and Barbuda to be poorer today. As we bid farewell to one of our outstanding cultural artistes and inimitable calypsonians, the sadness which death inflicts is felt by all and sundry. The nation of Antigua and Barbuda has lost a son who made his presence felt during his short time on earth. His collection of songs means perpetual life of another sort. He defies the songwriter who declares: ‘Time like an ever-rolling stream, bears all its sons away, they fly forgotten as a dream dies at the opening of day’.”

The ceremony also featured renditions from soca artistes Claudette ‘CP’ Peters, Tian Winter, Dennis ‘Menace’ Roberts and others. The Antigua and Barbuda Pan Association also paid tribute in song.

The eulogy was delivered by a very emotional St Peter MP, Asot Michael.

Sir Rupert, who was born and raised in Willikies, died at his home on September 11 after a prolonged illness. He was 78 years old. He was laid to rest in the village of his birth.

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