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“Women’s Contribution to the Steelband Movement” -- Merle Albino-de Coteau

“Women’s Contribution to the
Steelband Movement”

Merle Albino-de Coteau

Mrs. Merle Albino-de Coteau is a retired Director of Culture, in the Ministry of Community Development, Culture and Women's Affairs.  She is a daughter of the soil having being born into a musical family in Success Village, Laventille (Republic of Trinidad and Tobago) - Mrs. Albino-de Coteau, a graduate of Mc Gill University, Canada and of the University of the West Indies (UWI) is also the holder of several awards for contribution to music in T & T.  She was honoured on the twentieth (20th) anniversary of the National Woman's Action Committee for her contribution to Culture, in particular the Calypso Aft form in February 2004.  She is also one of the recipients of a Kwanza Award (2001), a nation award, the Humming Bird Medal (1993), and a Sunshine Awards (1989) at Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM), for her contribution to culture, particularly for calypso and steelband activities Full Bio -



For anyone born into a musical family in the British Colony of Trinidad in the 1930's through 1950's, where the whole cultural concept was Euro-centric in perspective, it was taboo to become associated with our indigenous art form, the steelband.  Because the country was socially  stratified during this period, grassroots forms were either only grudgingly accepted or totally negated.

My brothers Aldwin and Martin, my sister Lucille and I grew up in a musical environment in Laventille. One Christmas, my parents bought a small xylophone as a gift for us which, Aldwin always reminisces, helped to change our lives forever.  "Under the tutelage of our mother, we learned to play our first tune on this musical toy" (Albino, Montreal Community Contact newspaper, 8 Dec. 2000).

In the 1940's, during our childhood we were fortunate to hear and appreciate in our neighbourhood a beautiful musical sound produced by a small pan played by Carl Greenidge (uncle of the now renowned pannist/arranger Robert Greenidge).  Carl Greenidge can be referred to as the "Father" of pan players in Success Village, Laventille, having first started "Kentuckians Steel Orchestra." "Torrid Zone" was an off-shoot of Kentuckians which was later renamed "Savoys" (later sponsored by Chase Manhattan therefore becoming "Chase Manhattan Savoys" of which Merle Albino-Coteau became the musical director in 1970).

Since then there has been no turning back, as I became "hooked" on this phenomenal instrument "the pan." Hence whenever the opportunity presents itself, I try to preach the "Gospel of Pan."

While several "histories" have been written about the role of the Pan man, very little, if any, is written about the contributions of women to the steelband movement.  It is hoped that this presentation will help clarify any misconceptions that might have accrued over the years.  I hope to help enlighten pan lovers such as yourselves as to what the facts really are.

Historical Facts

The steelpan, which was born in Trinidad and Tobago, is the only acoustical musical instrument invented in the twentieth century; it represents the people from which it came.  The social structure of the society still presents many difficulties for people who play the instrument, in fact, for anyone associated with the instrument.

Panmen have been considered noise makers, violent men, rabble rousers, vagabonds, "badjohns" or any other epithet associated with being a social outcast.

Society is not however solely responsible for the degradation of panmen.   They were in some way to be blamed for their roguery.  For this reason it was "frowned on" for women to become involved in the steelband movement.

Nevertheless, there were women who fought against all odds and made a sizable contribution to all aspects of the steelband movement.  Women from all around the island became involved in steelpan performances.  In the early fifties there were only isolated cases of women's involvement in the steelband culture.  Here are a few examples:

1.  Females like Daisy-James McLean, now the founder of Harlem Syncopators began to play with her brothers in Casablanca (from Belmont), when she was only six years old.  She was the first woman to accompany a calypsonian, alias "Brother Mudada" at the popular Dimanche Gras Show (a show staged on Carnival Sunday Night at the Queen's Park Savannah).

2.  Norma Callender is another female who gave solo performances.  She was a member of Hill 60 Steelband (Behind the Bridge).

3.  Gemma Worrel-Sealey, a member of the Chase Manhattan Savoys was another Pioneer in solo performances (Laventille).

4.  Rufina Thomas and Eva John were from a band called Metronomes' in (Tunapuna).

5.  Marjorie Headley-Mosely from Nightingales' (Tunapuna).

Woman Steelbands

This isolation began to thaw with the advent of "White Stars," a group comprised of inmates of the Girls Industrial School, Belmont, a correctional institute supervised by the nuns of The Carmalite Sisters.

This group owed its existence to Casablanca Steel Orchestra, which was formerly led by Mr. Oscar Pile, nicknamed "Bogart," a walking encyclopedia, who is still alive today.  However, because the group "White Stars" was part of the penile system, it never got any degree of prominence in the history of the steelband movement at that time.

According to Sylvia Gonzales ("Steelband Saga: A Story of the Steelband the first 25 years." POS: Ministry of Education and Culture, 1978: p 27-29.), "Comparatively little is known of them, they were somewhat restricted, being inmates of the Correctional institution" (Gonzales, p. 27).

No one factor is responsible for the birth of the steelband in Trinidad and Tobago, neither can any one location in Trinidad and Tobago claim to be the birth place as there were simultaneous happenings.

Attention must now be turned to Hazel Henley, another woman who defied tradition and formed one of the most successful female groups "Girl Pat" in 1952.

Hazel Henley, Ellie Robertson, Sammy Espinet, Pat Maurice and Irma Waldron-Regis (played tenor), Sylvia Dedier Gowin, Jean Ewing and Joyce Ford (seconds), Irma Cyrus-Nelson (tune boom), Grace Forde and Joan Rolston (bass).

The first tune they learned to play was "Tennessee Waltz."  Another favorite was "After Johnny Drunk Me Rum." Older folks would remember these selections.  This band was assisted by Ellie Mannette of Invaders (Naipaul, S.  "Own Instruments And Plays Them." Evening News 6 Feb.  1950: 5).

The Magnificent album entitled "ivory and steel" features the Pan Am North Stars and our own renowned Winifred Atwell on piano.  This is another striking example of the great leap forward made by the steelband over the years with the help of Winifred Atwell.

After the hiatus of twenty years, there was a rebirth of ensembles, "Neal and Massy Trendsetters" came on the scene...setting the Trend to be the first Female Conventional Band.

It is one of the main goals of this paper to redress the imbalance and to give credit where credit is due by paying tribute to the unsung heroes who have contributed to the advancement of this phenomenal creation.

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Well i have made many comments about the steelpan and it had directly  refered to men even though i think i had included in my earlier comments about the inclusion of women steelan players,,so in creaming everything ,the fact is that if there was no  woman,,women on earth ,there would not have been men,,,,AH  NEVA SEE A MAN MEK A PICKNI YET IN  MEH LIFE,,,,,,SO LEH WE MEN,,,PANMEN GIVE DEM STEELPAN WOMEN  DEH RESPECT ENCOURAGEMENT AND FULL SUPPORT FUH DEH  STEELPAN,,,LETS  GIVE THE STEELPAN WOMEN THE WORLD OVER THE FULL COOPERATION,,,,FOR THOSE WHOM DO NOT UNDERSTAND THE CREOLESE LANGUAGE ON THE INTERNET,,,,I HAVE NEVER SEEN A MAN BEING PREGNANT IN MY LIFETIME,,,HADN,T  IT  NOT   BEEN  FOR  WOMEN THERE WOULD  NOT  HAVE  BEEN  WE  MEN,,,,RESPECT  LADIES,,GOD BLESS.

Thanks Mrs. De Coteau for reminding the pan world that "women is boss".

From a trivial point of view: (1) Six females have arranged winners at various major pan competitions in T&T                         (2) A set of twins have twice won the duet category at pan is beautiful (3) Three have won the soloists category (4) The youngest soloists champion at 10 years of age is female (4) Four have sung the winning panorama tune. (5) Two have captained large steel orchestras (6) One has arranged/conducted more classical winners than any male. (7) The 2013 pan jazz winning ensemble was arranged and led by a female.

Woman Is Boss...great article....

Just letting you know that Beverly Griffith is male..

Sweet and Sour, LOL, Ah lot ah people on WST suffering with "Early Dementia" or what? Me included,


No probs..

ARTHUR, have you ever looked at a woman play drums? she make all the shots a man makes without much effort, she makes it look easy, this is why WOMAN IS BOSS.

I thank Mrs Albino-de Coteau and all women for their contribution to this planet.


Thanks Miss, for this invaluable contribution.

You write a whole article and not one word about Marjorie Wooding!!!! aka Pan Trinbago's god mother.    Please see http://m.guardian.co.tt/news/2013-02-13/pan-trinbago%E2%80%99s-%E2%....

Thank you for the information, Bernard Thomas. I wasn't aware of much of it.

Whenever this topic comes up , I always mention Mrs. Wooding. Maybe it's that south thing again :) .

In the mid sixties I met her son Michael , and David "Peasey " Balbosa at Texaco in Pointe a Pierre.

In those days we hung out in the smoking sheds at break time.

Peasey, who now manages Hatters , was captain and a master six bass player at the time, and Silvertones was one of the top bands in Sando.

I was a member of Scarlet Symphony at the time.

In 1967. there was a steelband music festival , and Silvertones had an outstanding  performance ,placing second in the unsponsored category.

Under the tutelage of Mrs. Wooding , they played impressive versions of the test piece, "The merry wives of Windsor " , and their tune of choice, " The Barber of Seville ".

I was very impressed by the band, and I joined Silvertones shortly after , when my band , Scarlet Symphony folded.

I left Trinidad late in 1968 . but returned to Trinidad in 1971 for Carnival, and played with the band for panorama and on the road.

Our tune that year was Lord Kitchener's " Wait Teacher ", an arrangement so sweet I remember it to this day.

That tune was also arranged by Mrs. Wooding.

I wasn't aware until today that this was the first panorama tune arranged by a woman.


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