Home News Local news On Island Profile: Camille 'King Derby' Macedon

On Island Profile: Camille 'King Derby' Macedon

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March 31, 2008 — Camille Macedon is best known for the countless hours he devotes to teaching the art of calypso and banjo playing to V.I. children.
Known fondly as King Derby, he is the father of Calypso Inc., an organization he founded in 1982 to bring calypso music to schools on St. Croix and to preserve local culture like quelbe music. Under his tutelage, his "junior calypsonians," who range in age from six to 15, have been known to wow audiences during performances at the Crucian Christmas Festival and other venues.
"I do it to preserve culture and keep calypso and quelbe alive," says Macedon, who teaches at various private and public schools. He began at Pearle B. Larsen School "in the '70s," and to date works a few hours a week at Manor School, Seventh-day Adventist (both east and west locations), School of the Good Shepherd and Alexander Henderson, Claude O. Markoe and Eulalie Rivera elementary schools. He receives a small stipend from the schools, he says.
Macedon began singing calypso as a young man in 1957 and performed professionally in 1966. He is an 11-time winner of the Crucian Christmas Calypso Monarch competition, winning seven in a row before being forced to take a break by others who didn't feel that they could win as long as he was performing.
He's been honored by the V.I. Legislature for outstanding contributions to the people of the territory and served as a V.I. ambassador under the Juan Luis administration, he says, "when the island needed to rebound from the bad publicity in the wake of the 1972 tourist killings" known as the Fountain Valley Massacre.
"I was given off from September to April by Don Juan to travel to the States as an ambassador to sing," he says of the former governor, Juan F. Luis, known for his striking good looks and jet-black hair.
Macedon, who was employed for 40 years with the Public Works Department before retiring, also did stints as a boxer, baseball player and skater. For 15 years he served as a racehorse jockey and got his stage name as a result from his former teacher, the late attorney Luz James.
His career has spanned sundry calypso performances, from St. Lucia and Dominica to Canada and Chicago, and he recorded several popular compositions such as "Juan Luis Jam," the first official St. Croix Road March in 1979, and "Rum and Coke," among others.
He is perhaps known as the best extemporaneous singer in the Virgin Islands, coining witty lyrics on command from his perch on stage or wherever he happens to be performing.
Macedon says his lyrics have also been viewed as "controversial."
"As a calypsonian, the lyrics I would sing about others wouldn't touch it," he says. "I am no different from The Avis and the Daily News. They write about what's worrying people, and then I sing it."
Macedon, who turns 70 in May but doesn't look a day over 50, is still singing.
He recently released a two-song CD with his 14-year-old granddaughter, DeMaris Belardo, a seven-time winner of the junior calypso competition. His latest song, "Love is a Business," is a witty take on women who see relationships as a means of paying bills — thus the title.
He's been married to the former Leona Edney for 40 years, and the two have eight adult children. Before his granddaughter ventured into calypso singing, his last child, daughter Monique, won two junior calypso competitions in 1987 and 1988. Her first crown came at age 11; she now helps her father with Calypso Inc.
The winners of the Calypso Inc. competitions get savings bonds ranging from $100 to $250, and Macedon said that at last count 170 former members have gone on to college.
It is what he is most proud of.
"They usually come up with the topics and I write the lyrics, which they have to learn, and what this does is help them with studying," he says. "When they start writing, they learn about doing essays, standing on stage they learn confidence — all of this helps them in college, in their future."
Some of his charges have included "Mighty John" Williams, who at 17 beat out veteran calypsonians in 2003 to win the Monarch crown, and Kasaun "K-Force" Baptiste, who last year won first runner-up in the Monarch competition.
"It makes me proud to see them succeed," Macedon says, adding that Williams was one of his best students.
When he's not teaching kids or penning lyrics for calypsonians like his cousin and one-time festival monarch Karen "Lady Mac" McIntosh, and performing jingles for the V.I. Lottery and V.I. Waste Management Authority, he works freelance as a banjo player with three of the best quelbe bands: Stanley and the 10 Sleepless Knights, Jamesie and the All Starts and Bully and the Musical Kafooners.
On April 5, Macedon will be honored in the Bronx, N.Y., by the V.I. Freshwater Association at a benefit dinner. Macedon, the group says, was instrumental in getting several youngsters to perform on banjos in Philadelphia for three nights in August 2001 as part of the Weed and Seed Program in Estate Grove.
Macedon says he lives for those proud moments.
"I always want to see our children always do their best and if I can do my little part, I'm happy to do that," he says.
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