Legendary Band Leaders of Yesteryear
We continue our series that takes a look back at the contributions to our Carnival art form. For the fourth in the series we look at a different kind of legend of mas, Norman Samaroo, a name synonymous with the supply of Carnival materials since the early 1950s when he started that division of his business. Norman “Sam” Samaroo passed away on February 3, 2011 in Miami, having recently celebrating his 90th birthday in relatively good health. He had moved to Miami a few years ago to be with his daughters.
The first three in this series reflected on the contributions of legendary mas band leaders Harold “Sally” Saldenah, George “Sir George” Bailey and Irvin “Mac” Mc Williams. Suffice it to say that had it not been for the business acumen of Norman Samaroo in identifying the need to become a supplier of mas making materials to these early legends, none of the spectacles produced by these creative geniuses would have been possible. The same can be said for Edmund and Lil Hart, Neville Aming, Cito Valasquez, Wayne Berkely, Ken Morris, Stephen Lee Heung, Raoul Garib, Bobby
Ammon, Russel Charter and Peter Minshall, among many others.
Diminutive in stature, and hailing from San Fernando, Samaroo learnt the trade of tailoring at an early age from Joe Gopee’s tailoring shop at Cross Crossing, after which he moved to Stephen and Todd tailoring in Port-of-Spain. Those stints along with his later training as a chemist at Point-a-Pierre’s refinery and at Forest Reserve where he played cricket as a wicketkeeper, gave him the confidence to move to Port-of-Spain (POS) again, this time to work at Joseph Gonzales’ hardware store on Marine Square.
It was here that his shrewd entrepreneurial spirit began to manifest itself. Every Sunday he would leave POS with two suitcases filled with pots and pans, clothing and perfumes which he acquired from merchants at wholesale prices. He would then sell them, on foot, door to door, to the people in the country making a small profit. By 1949, he had saved enough to acquire 3 Observatory Street, which he named Samaroo’s Regent Store as if a sign of things to come; that of becoming the King of Carnival supplies.
About a year later, he purchased 5 Observatory Street. It was not long after this he met up with the owner of Eve’s Fancy Work on Frederick Street, Fritz Heilbron, who introduced him to the Carnival business and from whom he eventually acquired that business. Thus, started Samaroo on the path to becoming the number one supplier of Carnival materials, sourcing and supplying the latest in items such as fabrics, braids, sequins, appliqués, beads, feathers, glitter dust and leatherette.
He became very popular with the people in the Observatory Street/Belmont areas such as the infamous ‘Drx Rat’ and wrestling legend, ‘Thunderbolt’ Williams. The customer always came first in business and he proved this by opening very long hours during the Carnival period. He always said that "no sale was too small" and if a customer wanted to purchase a needle or a spool of thread, that customer should be served with the same respect as any other.
Due to circumstances beyond his control, Samaroo had to close the business at Observatory Street in 1989 and moved on to the racing pool and hotel business at Abercromby Street and at Valley Vue/Luciano in St Ann’s respectively. He was also at one time the owner of Hotel Normandie and a director of Accra Beach Hotel in Barbados.
He promoted boxing under Regency Promotions, was a fete promoter and a member of the Arima Race Club. He won big races when he owned horses like Quiz Kid and Now Geraldine that won major races. His biggest boxing promotion was when T&T's Leslie Stewart fought Canada’s Donny Lalonde in Trinidad for the WBC title which was shown live on ABC television.
Current and ex band leaders such as Wayne Berkely and Earl Patterson, Stephen Derek and Rosalind Gabriel fondly recall their days shopping at Observatory Street, with Norman “Sam” Samaroo at the helm. He was always open to serve his customers at just about any time, especially around Carnival time, a trend that his nephew Steve continues today from his locations at Abercromby Street, Port-of-Spain and at San Fernando.
According to nephew Steve, who took over the Carnival arm of the business when his uncle “retired” from the mas business: “Everybody knew him as Sam. He was a charitable person to the churches, orphanage, fed the poor in Woodford and Tamarind Squares and even donated his property on Observatory Street to the Credo Foundation, a religious organisation, to provide a rehabilitation centre for young people. He was an elder at the St Ann’s Church of Scotland and Greyfriars Church on Frederick Street.”
Today Samaroo’s Ltd has grown to become a well-known international supplier of Carnival materials serving the entire Caribbean (with branches in Port-of-Spain, San Fernando and Barbados) and the dozens of other Trini-styled Carnivals around the globe. Its founder Norman Samaroo was no doubt proud of him, as the Samaroo legacy lives on.
Samaroo was the father of five children and seven grandchildren. His funeral took place earlier this week in Miami, however there will be a memorial service in Trinidad and the public will be advised as soon as arrangements are made.