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Steelband 1950 - 1959

The 1950s began with all pans supported around the necks of players. The primary focus of the Steelband was to perform on the streets during Carnival and all panmen supported their instruments while parading. Panmen would convene approximately two months before Carnival to learn and rehearse their parts; this was referred to as practice. Each band had a leader/arranger who may or may not have had any formal musical education. For the most part, panmen had none and depended on their hearing for memorizing the music.

In 1950, the first Steelband organization was formed, the National Association of Trinidad & Tobago Steelbandmen, Sidney Gollop was its first President. In 1951, the Steelband had made rapid progress that a group of eleven leading panmen was selected to perform at the Festival of Britain which was held at Southbank, London. This group was called the Trinidad All Steel Percussion Orchestra (TASPO) the members included: Sterling Betancourt from the band Crossfire, Belgrave Bonaparte from the band Southern Symphony, Philmore Davidson from the band City Syncopators, Andrew De LaBastide from the band Hill 60, Orman Haynes from the band Casablanca, Elliott Mannette from the band Invaders, Granville Sealey from the bandTripoli, Winston Simon from the band Tokyo, Dudley Smith from the band the Rising Sun, Theophilus Stephens from the band Free French, and Anthony Williams from the band the North Stars. The musical director was Lt. Joseph Nathaniel Griffith of the Police Band and the official tuners were Betancourt, Davidson, De LaBastide, and Mannette. Granville Sealey dropped out of the band early and Carlton Roach from the band Sun Valley was selected to replace him.

 

TASPO sailed to England on the SS San Mateo on July 6, 1951. Roach never made it to England as he was let off the ship in Martinique after falling ill. TASPO toured Great Britain playing at dances and concerts in cities such as London, Newcastle, Leeds, and Manchester. The group returned to Trinidad on December 12, 1951, minus Betancourt who stayed in London to continue his pan career. 

While panmen worked tirelessly at developing the only melodic, steel percussion instrument invented in the 20th century, the Steelband was not embraced by the citizenry. As panmen generally came from the poor and lesser-educated, segments of the population, their music became synonymous with their plight, Steelband music was considered the poor Black man's music. Steelbands attracted many lawbreakers, associating with a steelband was not considered socially acceptable. Many panmen belonged to gangs and, as a result, steelbands were perceived by most people as extensions of these gangs. There were numerous fights among steelbands that, in many instances, led to bloodshed with the use of weapons such as knives, razors, and cutlasses, and missiles such as bottles and stones. These violent clashes were reflected in the calypsoes of the time.

In the early 1950s, young, middle-class, college-educated, aspiring panmen avoided the hostile environment that had been created by existing steelbands and formed their own bands. Three such bands were Dixieland, Silver Stars, and Saigon. Dixieland was led by Curtis Pierre who was a student at St. Mary's College and was able to attract some of his schoolmates. Silver Stars was led by Edgar "Junior" Pouchet who also attended St. Mary's and were able to attract St. Mary's as well as Queen's Royal College students. Saigon later became Starlift, included students from Queen's Royal, St. Mary's, and Fatima Colleges. The three bands were all located in Port-of-Spain and, with the support of the members' schoolmates, families, and friends, were very instrumental in gaining the steelband acceptance by the middle-class and upper echelons of Trinidad society.

In 1952, after strong resistance from the Music Association, steelbands were allowed to compete at the biannual Music Festival for the Hope-Ross Challenge Cup. The association had opposed attempts by the steelbands to play classical music. Lacking an adequate concert hall, the festival was conducted in cinemas such as Globe and Roxy in Port-of-Spain.

In the mid-1950s, Pans went from single units to multiple units with improved sound. Although the melody was still carried by a single pan also called ping-pong or tenor or first-pan, the background music was provided by the second-pan or two pans, the guitar-pan consisting of two pans, and the bass consisting of three to four drums. Neville Jules from the band All Stars developed the twin-bass and Ellie Mannette from the band Invaders developed a second-pan or double-second that has remained a standard even today. With these innovations, the steelband evolved from an orchestra of single-drum instruments, supported around the necks of panmen, to one comprised of multiple-drum instruments with the octaves of a piano and supported on metal frames with wheels for ease in parading the streets. Anthony Williams from the band the North Stars was generally accepted as the first band-leader to use wheeled stands. The increased range of the steelband allowed for the adaptation of classical music and popular American songs to the calypso beat.

 

The Invaders and the All Stars Steelbands were the leading pioneer's successful recordings by the bands were. Interpretations that became recording hits included "Liebestraume" by Franz Liszt, "Melody in F" by Anton Rubinstein, "Hawaiian Wedding Song," "Come Back to Sorrento," "With A Song in My Heart," and "Softly as A Morning Sunrise." by Invaders. Successful recordings which were made by the All Stars were "Intermezzo," "Barcarolle," and "Minuet in G."

In 1956, a 15-minute, 16mm documentary entitled Music From Oil Drums was filmed by Peter and Toshi Seeger, in collaboration with Kim Loy Wong of the HiLanders Steelband. The film is a detailed documentation of how steeldrums are made and played. In 1958, the film won the "Chris" award for excellence of Production, Information and Education.