December 2015

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Citation: Rajkumar “Krishna” Persad, Degree of Doctor of Letters (DLitt)

Chancellor, it is often a requirement that cultural icons be driven by deeper passions than the rest of humanity on whose behalf they perform and interpret life. The elegance and gravitas of Rajkumar Persad’s aspect, the transcendent movement and enthralling nature of his performances so moved those who witnessed him in full flight, that it would only be appropriate to refer to him as “Krishna.”

Rajkumar Persad was born and bred in Penal, in the Republic of Trinidad & Tobago.

Even before daring to dream in those humble surroundings, as a child he would find himself moved by music. Whether it was the boom of the dhol, the rhythms of the cutter or the dulcet chimes of the jhal, he would find his body moving as if of its own volition. Known simply as “Dancer Boy” in those days, he was invited to perform with Street Theatre Groups. Kamaluddin Mohammed’s outstanding radio show, “Indian Talent on Parade,” was one of the major catalysts that caused Rajkumar Persad to fall in love with the culture of India.

Word of Dancer Boy’s talent spread across the south and he was about to stand toe to toe with others who were or would be revealed to be legendary or phenomenal. He joined the Texaco Caravan, a travelling show hosted by Holly Betaudier. This would bring small financial payment but would also lead to Mr. Persad being introduced to the city of Port of Spain and the prevailing cultural scene. He was introduced to Beryl McBurnie and the bandleader Choy Aming who would be the one to convince him to be billed as “Krishna” Persad or simply “Krishna.” He impressed all who saw him including Errol Hill who invited him to perform in a stage play at Queen’s Hall as part of an Independence programme. He found himself constantly in demand.

He was chosen as part of the Trinidad and Tobago contingent led by Aubrey Adams to attend the Commonwealth Arts Festival in England where he performed at several venues including the famed Royal Albert Hall.

Rajkumar Persad would go on to become the first citizen of Trinidad and Tobago to be awarded a scholarship by the Government of India through the Indian Council for Cultural Relations to study music and dance. He chose to learn the classical style of Southern India known as Bharata Natyam, noted for its grace, lyricism, precision and expressive mechanisms of leading an audience towards the experience of a sentiment. He returned to Trinidad in 1967, having been awarded the prestigious title of Natya Kala Ratna. In that same year, he established the Trinidad School of Indian Dance.

And he has represented Trinidad and Tobago all over the world, dancing all around the Caribbean from Grenada to Antigua, Barbados and Jamaica as well as outside of the region including Switzerland, Germany, Japan, Singapore and Brazil. He has performed for HRH Queen Elizabeth II, the late Mrs. Indira Gandhi and the late Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia.

Mr. Persad has also been passionate about making a contribution. He served as a Senior Cultural Officer in the Ministry of Culture and retired after forty years in the Public Service. During that time he organised lectures and demonstrations for many schools, charitable organisations and community groups. He is acknowledged as a significant contributor to the growth of the Prime Minister’s Best Village Competition, the San Fernando Arts Festival and the Hindu Prachar Kendra. In 1969 he became the first artiste performing in any medium of Indian Culture to receive the National Award of the Humming Bird Medal. Many years later the Government of Trinidad and Tobago would again honour his contributions by recognising him as a Living Icon.

He has received awards from the National Dance Association of Trinidad and Tobago and from the Trinidad Dance Theatre. First Citizens conferred on him the title of Maestro Extraordinaire.

Today, he continues to embrace the culture of Trinidad and Tobago and his passion for Classical Indian Dance is undimmed.

Chancellor, for proud, distinguished, elegant representation of the people of the Republic of Trinidad & Tobago and for dedicated contributions to nation building through culture, I present Rajkumar “Krishna” Persad, and ask that by the authority vested in you by the Council and Senate of The University of the West Indies, you confer on him the degree of Doctor of Letters, honoris causa.

October 2015
St Augustine Campus