UWI award to backup vocal
A TRINI SONGBIRD who has been “nicing up” tracks for several calypsonians is about to be rewarded for her efforts by the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill.
Glenda Ifill, who was recently in Barbados on a brief holiday before returning to her teaching job in New York, told the WEEKEND NATION she found out about the award from radio personality Anthony Admiral Nelson.
“First of all I was stunned, because normally they don’t honour the people that sing the background vocals . . . .
“Unfortunately, a lot of the Caribbean singers do not understand the importance of background vocals, so therefore we are never honoured. So when he [Admiral] called me I was touched because finally, after all these years somebody recognises the work that we have been doing all these years. So it does mean a lot to me,” she said.
Ifill grew up as a classical singer in Trinidad. It was only after she migrated to New York in 1974 that she got into calypso.
“I didn’t even plan on it, it just happened by accident. I was working with this band and Frankie McIntosh, he and I were on the same gig and I jokingly told him, ‘I said when are you guys gonna call me for a session’? By the following week they really called me in and it spearheaded from there,” Ifill explained.
Outside of the citations she has received from the New York Senate for her work with students, Ifill said this was the first time she had been recognised for her contribution to calypso.
She teaches chorus at the MS390 Middle School in the Bronx.
“The chorus that I have taught, they were on Broadway for like six months at one point, and then for ten years they had the Christmas Carol at Madison Square Garden and my school chorus did that for those ten years,” Ifill boasted.
She was also very proud of the fact that she is teaching calypso, the dance and limbo to the American children in her charge.
The students have also recorded a version of David Rudder’s Calypso Music and for Black History Month 2010, they did a theatre piece on Sparrow’s The Slave.
Ifill is a sought-after voice for several Bajan and Caribbean acts who perform in Trinidad. She has done backing vocals for the likes of Edwin, Red Plastic Bag, Grynner, Alison Hinds, TC and the Mighty Sparrow.
Ifill said she and another honouree Charmaine Yates would have done backing vocals on the recordings of several artistes including Sparrow, Super Blue, Baron, Arrow, Shadow, Lord Kitchener, Duke and Ajamo.
“There was a time when everybody actually recorded in New York, so we were doing a lot of the work up there then.
“Now a lot of them, especially Trinidad, they do their stuff back in Trinidad. But then I still do live shows with them, most of them that come up,” she said.
She also performs at the annual Mother’s Day show in New York, which attracts a number of acts from the region and Labour Day fetes.
Ifill, who plans to be back in Barbados in March to accept the award, is about to release two CDs. One is a remake of some Motown hits in calypso and reggae and the other is a “Caribbean-style” gospel album, which was arranged by Barbadian keyboardist Brian Walker.
The awards are being presented through the Institute For Gender And Development Studies at Cave Hill. Acting head of the institute, Joan Cuffie, confirmed the awards to Ifill and Yates, but would only add that some Barbadians were also included in the list.
Without giving away too much, Cuffie said the awards were part of celebrations for International Women’s Day.
“We are going to celebrate women who have been in the calypso arena for a number of years across the region then, and those who are now making a serious contribution to calypso which we see still as a male dominated arena.
We really want to celebrate the contributions that these female calypsonians have made to the genre of calypso, and we know that supporting them have been these dynamic women in the background making them sound good and so we want to honour those women too,” she explained. Ifill said the institute was also honouring two women who have been working with zouk.