The Story of American Musician Roberta Flack and a Barbadian Coconut Vendor
The more you know.
Like the Errol Barrow-Nina Simone story, when I first heard about this I was skeptical. Mainly because it was just casually mentioned in the middle of a conversation with my mother, which I don’t remember being about Roberta Flack – the Grammy award winning artiste best known for “The First Time I Ever Saw Your Face“, “Killing Me Softly With His Song” (which Lauryn covered) and her duet with Donny Hathaway “The Closer I Get To You“- or coconuts for it segue to that point. But, yet, there we were.
So like before, I put down a few Google searches to corroborate. Because even though I know liaisons between visitors – regular and famous – who figuratively fall in love with the island and people are frequent, sometimes bajans real lie-id.
After some largely unsuccessful digging (I highly doubt Ms. Flack would want to gush about this experience), I stumbled across the blog of Sandra Yeaman, a retired Foreign Service Officer who once lived ’bout hay in the late ’80s.
She shares how hyped the island was for Ms. Flack’s upcoming shows to the island (“Flack Attack. That is what the newspaper headline said. And it was what everyone in Barbados talked about for several months.”), as well as her personal experience in encountering the coconut vendor. The story goes:
Everyone wanted to meet Roberta Flack. But the real story wasn’t who wanted to meet her, but who Roberta Flack met. She wasn’t on the island long, but in that short time, she met a coconut vendor who stole her heart.
The island had lots of coconut vendors. Mostly they sold iced coconuts for the refreshing water inside them. Part of the purchase was the show as they pulled out their collinses, a local name for a machette, and chopped off the tops and inserted a straw as they handed over the chilled coconut to the buyer. Roberta’s coconut vendor must have had something special to offer, although it wasn’t obvious to anyone else.
Once the Flack party left Barbados, Evan became Roberta’s new best friend. She had Evan’s sister call to ask him to issue a visitor visa to her coconut man. Evan explained to his sister that he really couldn’t be the one to accept the application because of the appearance of a conflict of interest. But he must have given her some tips on how a coconut vendor could improve his apparant ties to his home country because Roberta bought him a house on the west coast of the island. That’s about the point when the next newspaper headline, The First Time Ever She Saw His Coconuts appeared.
But sadly, things didn’t end well for the collin-wielding studmuffin. She goes on:
A few months after all the public attention died down, the coconut man ended up at my visa window. I didn’t recognize him; he didn’t have classic good looks. There wasn’t much at all that made him remarkable that I could see. He wasn’t tall. He didn’t dress particularly well. And he had a new occupation listed on his application. Instead of coconut vendor, he listed his occupation as groom. Since I could think of a lot of meanings for groom and none of them suggested any great ties to Barbados to explain why he would return at the end of a short stay, I asked him what kind of groom he was. He replied that he groomed his horse. I asked him who owned the horse, and he said he owned it. He then handed me a paper, one of the only times that seeing a document earlier would have cleared up the story. The letter was from Roberta Flack, addressed not to the coconut man but to the consular section, in which she explained she would be sure he returned to Barbados after two weeks because he had responsibility to care for the race horse she had bought him.
All did not end well for the coconut man. He returned to Barbados and his new house, but he didn’t meet Roberta’s cultural expectations. She had expected him to be loyal, perhaps even faithful. When she traveled to Barbados to surprise him, she really did surprise him. He wasn’t alone.