By Judith Lezama Charles
“I’m a scholar, songwriter, performer, e-commerce marketer … Thinking outside of the BOX!” A direct quote from Dennis Renwick when asked how do you describe yourself?
He lived music and used it as an extension of himself. In the Toronto calypso fraternity, he was known simply as ‘Leo’, a name he picked no doubt because of the astrological sign for those folks born in August.
Sadly, Dennis ‘Leo’ Renwick, community stalwart born on Monday, Aug 5, 1946, passed away peacefully on New Year’s Eve after a brief, untimely illness.
Roger ‘Rajiman’ Gibbs of the Organization of Calypso Performing Artistes (OCPA) echoed the sentiment: “He was a multi- talented musician, very pleasant to work with and had interest in not only calypso but music in general.”
Renwick worked with Gibbs over the years at the Annual Barbados Ball, a non-profit organization that supports charitable causes in the interest of Barbadians in Canada and Barbados, with a focus on education and healthcare. He was also a member of OCPA and performed with the Professionals Calypso Tent.
Renwick spent a greater part of his adult years in Toronto sharing his musical talents and creativity through a number of projects. He did not shy away from his “Leo” traits which included creativity, idealism and leadership.
He was very much in demand as a guitarist and played with a number of prominent bands like Dean and the Celebrities (a combo/band popular in the 1960’s in Trinidad), in Toronto, he was a member of the Toronto Soca Bunch, Moka, Los Ketchos Assos (a parang band) to name a few. But it was during his long stint with La Petite Musicale of Toronto under the watchful eye of Artistic Director Lindy Burgess that Renwick held it down as an impressive guitarist, songwriter, arranger and bass vocalist.
“Dennis was a great asset to La Petite,” Burgess explained. “I was impressed with his brilliance not only as a gifted musician but in everything else. He changed the complexion of the music because of his knowledge of chords. He adapted very easily to new styles with his use of embellished chords.”
Burgess said it was only fitting to dedicate the 2014 La Petite Production to Renwick, who was in the audience but unable to perform. His two compositions, Green Christmas and Christmas All Year, which was also the title of the 1994 cd recording by La Petite, are quite popular with the group.
Renwick loved anything musical, he basked in calypso rhythms and medleys, researched folk music from other islands and with a music colleague was in the process of cataloguing and scoring folksong gems. He was the People’s Musician.
Renwick was a known scholar with an IQ of 140. He excelled in his studies as a little boy, winning a Government Exhibition Scholarship from Nelson Street R.C in 1957 and then headed to the prestigious boys’ school, St. Mary’s College in Port-of-Spain.
He continued his post-secondary education at the University of the West Indies (UWI), Trinidad and University of Toronto mastering the sciences chemistry, zoology and botany. During that period, he made space to assist students both at St. Dominic’s and Holy Name Convent, tutoring them to eventually pass their GCE subjects in math and sciences. This was in 1966 when he himself was a mere teenager … the list goes on.
His page on Facebook is filled with warm, deserving comments about the man who touched the lives of so many people. During the last moments that he shared with friends at a recent parang session, when it came time to perform his own composition, Green Christmas, Dennis Renwick took charge and led the group saying … “Let’s Go!”
Little did those present know that would be his final curtain but the memory of that musical aggregation will live on and be talked about for a long time to come.
Our deepest condolences go out to his wife Ingrid, their children and their families, his siblings, close friends and the music fraternity.
Visitation is at Highland Funeral Home and Cremation Centre, Scarborough Chapel, 3280 Sheppard Ave. E. tomorrow (Jan. 9) from 5 to 9 p.m.
The funeral is at the same location on Saturday (Jan. 10) from 11 a.m. to 12 noon with cremation immediately following at Forest Lawn Crematorium, 4570 Yonge St., from 12:30 to 1:15 p.m.
Editor’s note: Renwick chose a quote from the play A Man for all Season as what best described him, hence the headline for this story.