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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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Truly a Gem.

Is that Cynthia who went to school at Escallier??

You're welcome - I visited Christmas of 2012 and of course the area was almost unrecognizable after 45 years. It's curious how the size of the school seemed smaller. I went from first standard to seventh there so it was essential to my formative years and I'm happy to say I was really well educated there.

Historic then.  Historic now.   I hope that pan lovers will read the comments that are posted on WST as many of those who  comment are family, friends and fans of the pannists and those that they collaborate with.   They are living oral historians, griots and not just story tellers and must be taken as seriously as those who write books.  Winifred Atwell and Pan Am North Stars (Greatness and Genius)   Yes!

I remember back in 1969 I was in Freeport Bahamas when I heard that Winnifred Atwell and Panam Northstars were coming to the Holiday Inn.I  Wanted to impress my then girlfriend from Jamaica with the wonders of pan since all she knew about it was my novice presentation. She reluctantly agreed to go after I pointed out that I did accompany her to a Byron Lee's performance. Boy what a show, seeing it for the first time I was so impressed with the professionalism, I mean from the time they took the stage lining up behind their respective pans with such style to the grandeur entrance of Winnifred,  acknowledging the audience with the grace of monarchy. Then they started, the acoustics allowing the true sound of a fully orchestrated rendition of classic music.  Then it happened, they played my girlfriend's favorite song "the wedding"When I heard Winnifred lead it in and the drums came in I shuddered, the hairs stood up at the back of my head, hearing the tenors go up with the bridge in unison with the rest of the pans including the newly invented big size tenor  I dont think I was ever more proud of being a Trinidadian than that moment. I turned to look at her for approval but she was not sitting in her seat instead she was standing on it clapping and shouting in Jamaican lingo, " play ee massau tarated!!"And it was on that night I decided to upgrade my novice status to  professional as I have been for the past forty years with Caribbean Extravaganza performing in S Korea, Dubai, Canada and throughout the United States... Thank you, Winnifred Atwell and Tony Williams...

I would like to see our award winning film producer Dalton Narine take this to the next level, create a documentary on this historic and ground breaking collaboration for future generations to understand what can happen to people who are born with natural gifts and are taken for granted by some and exploited for financial gain.

RCA is now owned by Sony, is there a reason why this Historic recording cannot be reissued and Anthony Williams receive his due?   


Interesting that you are thinking along the lines of a film. Mr. Narine actually said something similar to WST  recently.  He felt that this story would have made a great movie.

I agree, compare it to the Biopic coming out on Nina Simone, who I’ve met briefly on two occasions , I believe Winnifred Atwell story is more compelling and inspirational. My hope is the GOTT along with private investors  give him the financial support needed to make it happen.

From a Youtube comment on the performance...

Margaret Hinkson

In addition to hearing Ms Atwell performing a classical piece so superbly here, let us recognize also that the orchestra accompanying her is the steel band, a percussion instrument which was, at the time of this recording just about 20+ years old. Few steel orchestras since have matched the range of musical achievements which Pan Am North Stars did back in those days. It is quite a difficult task to accompany another musical performer on a totally different instrument. And North Starts have done this beautifully!


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