Right Honourable Justin “Hero” Cassell Dies at 80

“I believe some people are born great and others have greatness thrust upon them. I believe I am in both categories.” – Justin “Hero” Cassell

Montserrat’s music maestro, Right Honourable Justin “Hero” Cassell died today in London at the age of 80.

Hero, as he was known by all in everyday life wrote many of the island’s most iconic songs memorialising key moments in the island’s history, including The Flood, about the 1981 disaster and Where Di Galvanize about missing aid following Hurricane Hugo in 1989. He was a musical magician, penning hits like Who is Di Man, and Tiny Winey, a song which was remade by Jamaican band Byron Lee and the Dragonaires in 1985. Hero’s lyricism helped push his brother, the late Alphonsus “Arrow” Cassell to international acclaim with records like Hot, Hot, Hot, Long Time, Party Hopping.

Born in 1943, Hero was the island’s first calypso monarch in 1962. He was one of six brothers, three of whom sang calypso. He still holds the record of the most calypso crowns with ten local titles. In 1986, he captured the OECS calypso title in Dominica.

Justin Hero Cassell and Arrow – Photo from Alphonsus Cassell Foundation Archives.

After studying Agricultural Sciences at University of West Indies Mona Campus, Hero returned to Montserrat to work as an agricultural extension officer. In later years, he taught the subject at the Montserrat Secondary School. He was also well-known for his landscaping work at both public venues and private homes.

In 2009, he ran for office on the Movement for Change and Prosperity (MCAP) slate. He did not win a seat but served as their Public Relations Officer under the Office of the Premier for the Reuben T. Meade -led Government. Subsequently, he grew disillusioned with the current MCAP leadership and resigned, taking up support for People’s Democratic Movement (PDM).

In 2020, the Government of Montserrat awarded him the Order of Excellence for his extraordinary and unwavering commitment, devoted and distinguished contributions, his service and achievements towards the advancement of music regionally and internationally. Notably, Hero championed the creation of the National Honours & Awards during his tenure as PRO with MCAP. He was also an instrumental member of the St. Patrick’s Festival Committee and was vital to its resurgence as the island’s top festival in the 2010s.

While he no longer competed in local calypso shows, his lyrical prowess could be heard in the many songs he penned for local and regional calypsonians, including the late Desmond “Undertaker” Davis and Reinford “Kulcha Don” Gibbons. Hero was also invited to train young calypsonians in neighbouring Nevis and had no issue jumping on the mic at fetes in Antigua.

Although, he had been ailing for some time, he never wavered in support of artists, writing a song in 2023 for his cousin Brenda Cassell, who had the dream of singing calypso.

“He was so happy for the opportunity to do what he liked, what he loved. It made him forget his troubles, forget his pain,” Cassell said of working with him on her song Paradise Lost. “I always wanted to do it and he was behind me. Even when he was in hospital, he was still working. It meant a lot to me, his genius. Most of the songs I know from back in the day were his songs and I could sing them word for word. It was good to get to know him for myself. I loved the stories he told. He wanted Nia Golden to do the background vocals. He was a perfectionist and wanted someone who could do it justice. He wanted to convey messages, that were timely. What a wonderful opportunity to work with such a genius man in calypso.”

The Montserrat Arts Council renamed the calypso finals in his honour in 2022.

Below are videos which feature Hero sharing his story and love for the artform.

Listen to Classic Hero tracks on his official YouTube Channel – https://www.youtube.com/@TheJustinHeroCassell