Pat Castagne

Pat Castange
Pat Castagne 1916 - 2000

Celebrated composer and former diplomat Pat Castagne died on Friday night at the St Clair Medical Centre.

His son, Glenn, told the Sunday Express that Castagne, 84, retired immediately after dinner on Friday night, but called out for assistance around 9 p.m., when he suffered a heart attack.

“He had not been very active over the past few years,” Glenn said yesterday. “In fact, the death of his wife, Lucille, which occurred in 1988, changed his life quite a lot and he has had round-the-clock nursing assistance for the past couple of years.

“But he had a normal day on Friday and went to bed shortly before 8 p.m.

He called out in pain and we took him to the St Clair Medical Centre. They tried to stabilise him but were unsuccessful and he died at 10.10 p.m.

Castagne, who is equally famous for his composition of the national anthem, as he is for his authorship of Christmas and Carnival music, was born in Guyana, where his Trinidadian parents lived for a while. He first came “home” while still a toddler.

In the early 1950s he came to wide public attention for his co-scripting, producing and hosting of Dimanche Gras shows.

At the time, Castagne also operated as pianist in his own band which, over the course of its existence, included Syl Dopson, Curtis Pierre, Raphie Gillezeau, John “Buddy” Williams, Henry de Frietas and Pat Fitzgerald.

But he was truly a Renaissance man. He wrote a book on how to dance to calypso music, using himself and wife Lulu (the eldest sister of Chief Justice Michael de la Bastide) as models for the many pictures that showed calypso dancing steps.

An invention of his, a device to keep men’s neckties from swinging uncontrollably as they walked, was based on his observation that universally, button-holes were placed the same distance apart.

List him as a bit of a prophet as well. Asked by this reporter (circa 1981) to justify the disparity between the money prize won by calypso kings of his day and that of the Carnival Queens, Castagne said the future would rectify that. “One of these days, the calypso king will get so much money, he may not know what to do with it and you see what has already become of the Carnival Queen,” he said.

And while the Carnival Queen of 1955 (crowned at one of his shows) received $7,500 and the Mighty Spoiler got only $50 for his win at the same event, this year the calypso monarch received nearly $300,000. The Carnival Queen show was abolished in 1971 and enjoyed only a brief reprise during the last decade.

Castagne was, however, always close to calypso. His 1960 hit “The Ice Man”, sung by Lord Melody, demonstrated his touch with the streets, even as he was about to embark on a diplomatic career, as part of this country’s mission to London, under High Commissioner, Sir Learie Constantine.

During his service in London, he was referred to as “The Bailor”, that function being one of his tasks, in the wider portfolio of representing nationals there (particularly artistes on tour), who ran afoul of the law. He also used the same opportunity to work with the BBC, showcasing West Indian talent on a weekly radio programme that was aired here.

One of his compositions, called “A Song for the Islands”, was submitted to the West Indies Federation as a possible anthem. He was not successful in his bid, but when the federation collapsed, he changed the line “Hands joined across the sea” to the one we now know: “islands of the blue Caribbean Sea” and resubmitted the song to Trinidad and Tobago. It was accepted as and has remained our national anthem.

His best known Christmas song, “Kiss Me For Christmas”, recorded here by Kelwyn Hutcheon, has become one of the indigenous seasonal standards, which made him happy, although his original dream was to have the song performed by Pat Boone.

Upon retirement, he dedicated a lot of his time to charity work and became freshly famous as a writer of advertising jingles, including the music for the very successful “Carib is You” campaign for the beer of the same name. Castagne leaves to mourn his six children.