Ferguson “Sugar Tamarind” Adams (c.1890-1983) was probably the most legendary Big Drum Dance performer and “certainly one of the greatest musicians that the Caribbean has produced.” He was an acclaimed drummer, dancer and singer. He was popularly known as Sugar Adams.
At age 12 years Adams was taught to play the drum by noted drummer, Elisha George, and thereafter excelled in the art form. He performed throughout Grenada and the Grenadines, playing to esteemed audiences, including Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip in 1966. With the Mt. Royal drummers he achieved his greatest fame in the 1950s and 1960s, playing the “cut” drum. His artistry led musicologist Andrew Pearse in 1952 to identify him as “the leading drummer of the island.” Among Adam’s diverse talents was the making of the goatskin drum or the lapo-kabwit (la peau de cabrite: “goatskin”). According to Christine David, his famous words in regard to drumming were: “Goat skin hands born for the purpose, bring the keg (drum).” Though retired, he made trips to the US in 1975 (and was honored at a ceremony at the American Museum of Natural History) and the UK in 1980, with groups of Big Drum Dance performers. Anthropologist Donald Hill describes him as “one of the most knowledgeable old heads on the Big Drum” and “probably the best known Carriacouan to folklorists and anthropologists,” having served as an informant to researchers like MG Smith and JD Elder. When he died Adams was 93 years old, having played a tremendous role in the survival and spread of Carriacou Culture in general, and the Big Drum Dance in particular.
Adam’s wife, Mary “May” Fortune (d. 1973), was also a well-known Big Drum singer, “one of the most accomplished singers of her generation.” Together they were known as “Carriacou’s premier musical couple.” Audio recordings featuring Adams’ drumming include Carriacou Calaloo, Saraca and Tombstone Feast.
From A-Z of Grenada Heritage by John Angus Martin
Sugar Adams playing drum at Prospect Maroon, 1968: http://www.carriacou1968.com/big-drum-in-carriacou/big-drum-in-carriacou/
Listen to audio recordings of Sugar Adams drumming and interviews on Carriacou culture at Cultural Equity: http://research.culturalequity.org/rc-b2/search-keyword-audio.do