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Revisited - The Ivory and Steel Recording 40 Years Later, Still a Cultural Phenomenon

The Ivory and Steel Recording
40 Years Later, Still a Cultural Phenomenon
How a dragon and a butterfly made it historic

by Dalton Narine

Global. - They already had a name that fit – Ivory and Steel.

Actually, they made a record, did Winifred Atwell and Pan Am Jet North Stars.  It created history – in black and white.  Yet, like an Earl Lovelace novel, it exists in colour – that watershed recording of 1969.

It was the first time a classical pianist of Atwell’s prestige had performed and recorded with a steel band.  Forty years later, reaction to the music hasn’t diminished.  People are more outspoken in defense of its historic and artistic merits.

“You can’t define the pan from the piano,” Norman Darway Adams, a former Invaders defender says about a recording with the commonality of laypeople sharing its genius and masterstroke of musicality.  Adams refers to the orchestration of harmonically tuned pans, how it fits to the eminence of a soloist – trained by a prodigy who mastered his scales in 1890s Siberia.

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We often forget just how far ahead of the pack North Stars was.

I recall attending the performance at the Carnegie Hall NY, what a delight with this lady originally from my home town of Puna, (Tunapuna)


I have the LP and, periodically,I still play it to bring back thos good memories. Do you know that Winifred Atwell was a student of Ms. Peters' piano school on King Street in St Joseph, Trinidad. I clearly recall the evening when she returned to the school to honour her teacher Ms. Peters and she gave a memorable performance to students there that evening. Each time I play this LP, It brings back so many memories. Has this LP been ever converted to a CD?  Perhaps I should check with Stan Gittens of JBS REcords here in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada.


How fitting that you mentioned Bombay Street....  it was there in the early 60's as a 9yr old  that I was introduced to real pan music.  You see my grandmother lived next door to pan am and on our visits to see her we got to hear the best pan side ever.  I knew they would win the 1st Panorama.   This colaboration with Winnifred Atwell is absolutely awesome  !!!  I remember owning this album in an earlier time.  I hope someone will reproduce it on CD so I could have it again. 

 well it is still a great piece

 my friend neviile aleong who did the recording at queens hall and still one of the best live pan recording  engineers- has it

 the cd is not available at any store

 can we do something b4 tony  passes on?/

This was an amazing recording by Winifred Atwell and the Pan Am All Stars. I took this record to my music appreciation class at Hunter College back in the 70's and introduced to my class and asked them to listen and identify the instruments. They got the piano correct, but they heard the pans but didnt know what they heard and told me violins, cellos etc. Anyway, my professor also loved the music and borrowed it, and i never saw it again. I was told it was stolen. All these years after I have been to Trinidad in the record stores in town asking for this recording and where I can replace it. No one had it and some did not know what I was talking about. I would like to know if this fantastic recording is on cd....or still in record form and the bigger question...WHERE CAN I PURCHASE IT.? This is a must have to all pan lovers like myself, and must be listened to by the younger generation. I hope some one can help me. I am not the only one looking to replace this record. It was stolen from another friend of mine and we vowed that whoever finds it first will also get an extra copy for the other. I will send him this link. Thanks to whoever can help me locate this and purchase it. Cheers Cheryl

Hey the album was made in Manhattan New York the first performance was at queens hall the rehearsals were at the library across from Woodford square in port of Spain Fatima college and the hospital in cocorite all the music was done by Anthony skip Williams before Winnie came to Trinidad except devil's daughter composed by Mrs atwell and the wedding Michael brumant deceased noble marshal and myself Robert bullet thwaites did the tour and was the base player's on this project peace

Much appreciation from When Steel Talks. Thanks for the living history Mr. Thwaites.

We now have the bass player that Mrs Atwell hand picked to accompany her on her stay in T&T in the person of Mr Len Church as a member on WST. I hope he sees this post and share with us  his experience working with Mrs. Atwell.

Solid in St. James. Whatsup, Bullet?  It's our story. Be good.

Reading Cheryl Holders post brought back the memory of one of the most surreal musical moments of my entire musical life which occurred on that history making tour during a performance at a hotel. Atwell would do a portion of her concert with a trio in which I was the bassist and then she would do selections with North Stars. After the trio set was done, I quickly grabbed a bite and on my return to backstage ( I think the trio had another set with her) I heard what I thought was musac playing Rhapsody In Blue, but on getting  closer, I was absolutely astounded (literally had my mind blown) to realize that I was actually listening to the steel orchestra playing a portion of the music where Winnie was tacit. You would think that after hearing that performance several times before, I would have immediately recognized what my ears was hearing. It had already amazed me that Tony was able to tune the pans to so closely approximate orchestral timbre, and especially during low volume or percussive passages, it was sometimes virtually impossible to tell that you were listening to pan unless you were visibly observing the performance. Growing up listening to and playing pan, desensitized me such that I was never over enthused by foreigners who raved about the incredulity of our invention - that one experience changed all that, I sometimes have deja vu goose bumps recalling it. I absolutely agree it's a special treat listening to the recording, but for anyone who had the good fortune to have attended the live performances, it was a rare and uniquely historical event.

Big shout out to Cecil for pointing me to this article and to his request:

Winnie was very much a lady, pleasant and easy going, but the consummate professional with an incredible musical ear to match her technical dexterity. She was definitely an innovator in her entire career, and in her quiet and dignified way was able to open doors that were closed to blacks and particularly black women. Ivory and Steel was just another of her ground breaking accomplishments. On that her first and only US concert, we had an extremely well received revue of the Carnegie hall performance. Following this she continued her phenomenal success with the audiences that followed her all over Europe and down under. We had a great and fun working relationship with much mutual respect. Being newly married she was characteristically quite understanding when I did not take her up on a very generous offer to continue on the tour. I was really well taken care of by both she and her husband Lew, one of the funniest people I ever hung out with. He was as nocturnal as could be and we simply had the best time in Suriname with some other acts that were appearing there. 

Thanks Len.


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