Ras Shorty I was born Garfield Blackman on October 6, 1941, in Trinidad. Blackman lived in the community of Lengua where the descendants of indentured servants from India lived. He was exposed to their music, as well as calypso, music which laid the foundation for his musical style. Blackman began developing his musical style and performing at the age of seven.
It was traditional for calypsonian musicians to adopt nicknames. As Blackman grew older, he took on the nickname Lord Shorty. His nickname served as a comedic contradiction to his six-foot-four-inch stature.
Shorty learned about the music industry while working for steel pan bands. He began recording his own music in the 1960s, achieving moderate success with songs like ‘Long Mango’ (1962) until 1963. In 1963, he released his first hit ‘Cloak and Dagger,’ which was greatly successful. Having to maintain a living, however, he continued to work as a carpenter.
After getting fired from his carpentry job in 1967, Shorty decided to pursue music full time. Shorty then entered Trinidad’s annual calypso competition in 1970. During this time, in Trinidad, the annual calypso competition was an artist’s direct path to fame and fortune. Shorty won a regional contest but lost in the national finals. However, his determination persisted.
Although he lost the national finals, Shorty gained notoriety. As his career began taking off, Trinidadians were soon calling him “Saga Boy” or “the Love Man.” He had become a sex symbol, living what Shorty called “an orgy of the flesh.” His promiscuity resulted in him having 14 children by several women.
In the early 1970s, Shorty introduced the music of Trinidad’s Indian population to calypso music. He used Indian instruments in his hit song ‘Indrani’ and had created a new style of music that no one had ever heard before.
In 1973, he released another hit, titled ‘Soul Calypso Music.’ It was believed that the first two letters of the words soul and calypso formed the title of Shorty’s new genre, soca. Shorty explained, however, that the “so” derived from calypso, and “ca” derived from the Indian instruments that he used.
Ras Shorty I
Shorty soon grew disillusioned by his hypersexual lifestyle and decided to convert to the Rastafarian faith. He grew dreadlocks, began wearing togas, and went by the new name of Ras Shorty I. He also began criticising soca music’s hypersexuality. Younger Trinidadians ignored his criticism but his loyal fans continued to support his new music.
In 1984, Shorty released ‘Jamoo: The Gospel of Soca,’ which was a combination of reggae and Black gospel music from America. He then released a series of ‘Jamoo’ albums. While preparing for the release of his albums, Shorty broke his hand.
His hand would not heal and it was determined that he had developed bone cancer in his hand. Ras Shorty I opted to try herbal remedies but eventually died on July 12, 2000, in Port of Spain. He was 59 years old.
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