by Les Slater

A When Steel Talks Exclusive

Global -  This was a 1951 happening, definitely not of the “incidental” or “forgettable” variety – not for the steelpan world, not for the world of music, period. No, nothing of the sort for the experiment known as TASPO, the Trinidad All-Steel Percussion Orchestra (reportedly, Tobagonians had some issues with that name and that no player from Tobago had been selected, and vented their displeasure in lukewarm or non-existent support during the public drive for funds for the TASPO mission). Notwithstanding this, off TASPO went in July of ’51 to the U.K., primarily to appear in the Festival of Britain, the first representative group of Trinidadian panmen to take the steel band message well beyond the island’s shores. 

So 60 years later, here’s Ellie Mannette, West Virginia University’s (WVU) resident steelpan guru, lucidly recalling the TASPO saga as if this were a last month occurrence. “It was the opening of the gates for steel band around the world,” Ellie is saying.
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  • Thank you for this detailed history now being highlighted.  Now if only it would be understood that you gotta keep repeating otherwise it does no good for the betterment of the future struggles. 

    Brenda H.

  • As one of TASPO surviving member, I must say that I have enjoyed reading this piece of information. Very accurate.

    Best regards,


  • Thanks for the reminder. There is another aspect of the TASPO story that also needs to be retold. It's about the other group of young men and women of the Trinidad and Tobago Youth Council who led the drive for the acceptance of the new instrument and the players, and the fundraising drive to send TASPO to England. Two names that immediately come to mind are Lennox Pierre and Carlyle Kerr.

  • THANKS  for a very informative article.

  • "One of Griffith’s contributions held particular interest for Ellie, who was considered by many the era’s foremost name in pan tuning.

    He recalls Griffith telling the band about the need for the instruments to have chromatic range: “We didn’t know what chromatic was. We were doing all kinds of nonsense, doubling up on notes and that sorta thing. But Griffith taught us about chromatic.”

    Ellie says Griffith also gave him guidance on the tuning of the steel drum bass, as far as what range of notes the bass needed to have."

    From an historical perspective this is probably the most important part of the story, apart from the TASPO mission itself.

    His conveying these ideas to Ellie Mannette and others makes Mr Griffith one of the major contributors to the development of the modern steelpan, one whom I must admit I was not aware of, until being "educated" on this forum.

    Thanks again, WST. 

  • It seems I have to check WST every day let I miss one of these enlightening pieces. A good case could be made for putting togethera collection if only in an ebook where the young nd their 'young' teachers could find them.

    BTW Bukka, where can I get your book?

  • Its good to hear that Mr Joseph Griffith was given high praises for his contribution to our Pan culture. Contrary to what people make think Pan has made some major strides. Thanks to all those pioneers to numerous to mention, who stuck with it knowing that they had their hands on something good. And most of all we thank Almighty God our Creator for that special gift that he gave to us. As long as the world exist our sweet T&T will forever be known as '''''The Land of the Steelband.''''

    • Ellie says Griffith felt the band should have embraced the opportunity to project the new art form even further, and was not pleased the tour had to be terminated when it was. “He was upset with us,” Ellie says, in explaining that after the band returned to Trinidad (minus Betancourt, who chose to remain in England) in December that year, Griffith had no further interaction with the members.

      Valentine all that you said is very true. But there seem to be a reoccurring theme with many of the early pioneers. That would be "opportunities missed".  Griffith saw that there was much more that could be accomplish. The men of TASPO did not grasp this - although I'm sure in hindsight they would all probably now embrace Griffith's vision of where TASPO and pan could go.  This episode sounds a lot like what happened to Pam North Stars.  They too passed up golden opportunities that would never be offered again to return prematurely to Trinidad.

      In addition to the musical aspects, Griffith inspired many of the inventions as Tony Williams would literally produce instruments overnight to meet Griffiths demands.

      It sounds to me like Griffith was far less than please with the members of TASPO at the end. Imagine where pan could be today had TASPO and North Stars stay on course.


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