Franklyn ‘Frankie’ McIntosh, pre-eminent Caribbean musical arranger
When the University of the West Indies (UWI) conferred an honorary Doctor of Letters (D. Litt), honoris causa, on Vincentian-born, pre-eminent Caribbean musical arranger and Brooklyn resident Franklyn “Frankie” McIntosh in December 2020, it said he “genetically held the key to many musical genres.”
UWI said McIntosh’s grandfather was a gifted musician, “a talent he bequeathed — via nurture and nature — to Frankie’s father and his father’s siblings.”
It said McIntosh’s mother, “a nurse up to his fifth birthday, was the archetypical disciplinarian, loving and caring, but also adept with the belt — which by his own account, was a motivating factor for attending music lessons, not to mention his crestfallen music teacher who, not having seen him at music lessons for a couple months complained to his mother that Frankie’s truancy was putting her out of pocket — a matter which his mother resolved posthaste with the micro-economic intervention of the tamarind whip.”
“We owe Frankie a debt of gratitude for having brought so much talent to the fore, evinced, for instance, by the myriad times he was musical arranger, keyboardist, technical producer, pianist, music software programmer, and conductor for some of the most prominent calypsonians such as Alston ‘Becket’ Cyrus; The Mighty Sparrow; Explainer; Calypso Rose; Obstinate; Short Shirt; Shadow; Swallow; Lord Kitchener; Crazy; Winston Soso; Duke; and others,” UWI said.
It noted that one of McIntosh’s arrangements, Becket’s “Calypso Disco”, became the soundtrack of the movie “The Deep.”
UWI also said that Chalkdust’s 1989 Calypso Monarch-winning mellifluous “Chauffer Wanted,” another classic musical arrangement by McIntosh, “underscored the brilliance as well as the versatility of this Vincentian and Caribbean virtuoso.
“What is amazing, nay, beguiling, is not only his musical genius, but his courage and ability to maintain a ‘professional’ disposition and straight face while arranging Winston Soso’s ‘How Some Men Love They Women’; or Mighty Swallow’s ‘Fire in the Back Seat’ and ‘The Man with the Pepper Sauce is Boss’; or Becket’s ‘Teaser’ and ‘Coming Higher’; and, indeed, The Mighty Sparrow’s ‘Don’t Back Back on me,’” UWI said.
It said that McIntosh is a classically-trained Jazz musician, with the BA degree in music from the Brooklyn College of the City University of New York (CUNY), an MA degree in Jazz Performance from the New York University (NYU) School of Education, and a licensed teacher from the NYC Board of Education.
UWI said McIntosh has made an “indestructible mark on authentic Caribbean music and, ipso facto, bona fide Caribbean culture.
“He was not constrained by nationality or other parochial interests in the deployment of his talent,” it said. “With a totally Pan-Caribbean and Diasporic sensitivity, he found the time for teaching and assisting younger performers, arrangers and musicians, not just the big popular names.”
McIntosh’s mentors and teachers were world renowned and iconic, like John Lewis of the Modern Jazz Quartet; Zenon Fishbein, a Chopin proponent; and Robert Starer, noted US composer.
He was a member of the travelling group “The Wonderful World of Charlie Brown and Yvonne” and backed up groups such as The Shirelles; Jay and the Americans; The Platters; and Inkspots, among others.
McIntosh’s particular arrangement of “Betcha by Golly Wow fame” caught the attention of the legendary Phyllis Hyman, who later recorded her own version of it.
Internationally, he has received numerous awards, honors and citations.
UWI said it was “difficult to decide which of the myriad awards to highlight, although the limitation of a brief citation haplessly settles this.
“Thankfully, the subject of a 1991 Class Magazine article by (Trinidadian) Les Slater summarizes the basis of all such awards: ‘Frankie McIntosh: Master Musician’”, it said. “And so does his receipt of a diplomatic passport from the Government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines; and his induction into The Sunshine Awards Hall of Fame NYC in 2015, to name but a few of his well-deserved accolades.
“If you asked Frankie McIntosh to comment on his contribution to the Caribbean and the world, he might simply remark, consistent with his humility and gratitude to his music forebears, that ‘I take what society gives me … and then return it, in the symbolic form of music,’” UWI added. “Deferentially, he pays tribute to those musicians who have laid the foundation for others, like himself, as he continues to be diligent and passionate about not wanting to ‘drop the metaphorical baton’”.
It said McIntosh is “a deeply family-oriented gentleman, who is married to Patricia McIntosh (née Olivacce) for nearly half a century, and has four children, Ahmad, Omar, Jamilah and Hakim, and eight grandchildren.
“This consummate and renowned musician, arranger, composer, musical director, producer and educator merely wants to be remembered as someone who ‘tried his best and made a contribution,’” UWI said.
This year, McIntosh began celebrating 25 years of a Commemorative Stamp in his honor by the Government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
He told Caribbean Life exclusively in January that it was “difficult for me, in 2022, to describe the emotions experienced 25 years ago, when a commemorative stamp bearing my image was issued by the then government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines,” under the New Democratic Party (NDP) administration of late Prime Minister Sir James F. Mitchell.
“Neither can I vividly recall all the particulars surrounding its issuance,” McIntosh said. “Although the government’s gesture was highly valued, I didn’t consider it necessary to proclaim the good word to the general public. Only close relatives and friends were informed.
“That remained the case until a few days ago, when my sister, Cheryl, took the initiative to post a photo of the stamp on her Facebook page, thereby triggering a groundswell of congratulatory messages,” McIntosh continued. “I beg your indulgence in permitting me to extend, via this forum, a heartfelt ‘Thank you’ to all well-wishers.”
According to the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Postal Corporation, the Frankie McIntosh Stamp was issued on Jul. 24, 1997.
“’Good news travels slowly but arrives in the end, thank goodness. Bad news always arrives a day too soon’”, said McIntosh, quoting Halldór Laxness (1960). “Could Mr. Laxness have had foresight of my commemorative stamp, released in 1997, but making news headlines today, 2022?”
He said that it was on a Wednesday, when Cyprian “Cyp” Neehall, the editor of the local Vincentian newspaper, called him in New York from St. Vincent and the Grenadines, stating that he was “instructed, by whom I don’t recall, to convey the news that the government had plans to put me on a stamp, but would need a photo by Friday.”
McIntosh said he rushed to a photo studio close to his Brooklyn residence, “and, in regular home clothes, took a few half-body shots.
“These were sent to Cyp on Thursday,” he said. “I first saw the stamp one year later on a visit back home.”
More than a decade later, McIntosh said his Boys’ Grammar School (secondary school) comrade, Dr. Ralph E. Gonsalves, incumbent Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, personally recommended him for a diplomatic passport and a UWI honor.
“These gestures made it clear to me that both governments, like the people of SVG (St. Vincent and the Grenadines), valued my work on its own merits and not because of the color of my T-Shirt,” he said. “I am profoundly grateful and proud of this. It speaks well for SVG that artists were being recognized for such honors decades before the practice became fashionable in the region.”
McIntosh said none of his forebears was born with the proverbial “gold spoon,” stating that they all “worked hard to achieve whatever they accomplished, and I have tried to follow their example.”
He said while the commemorative stamp bears his image, it represents his family, friends, supporters and associates.
“It represents my musical influences from SVG, Trinidad, the USA and elsewhere – the support of the general public, my immediate family, musical associates and other friends,” Dr. McIntosh said.
“Once at Kennedy Airport (John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York) a customs officer became overwhelmed on examining my passport and discovering a stamp which I had placed inside,” he added. “He had ‘never met anyone on a stamp before’
“As my contemporaries pass on, the inevitability of death becomes a stark reality,” McIntosh continued. “However, I feel gratified that legacy of this stamp, and other honors, will tell the story to my descendants that their ancestors did something in life, which was appreciated by others.
“Through music, he imparted joy and love to the world, at least in some small measure,” he said, speaking about himself. “And, perhaps, that would serve as an inspiration.”