Awards for New York steel band pioneers

Awards for New York steel band pioneers
T&T Folk Arts Institute

Two surviving members from a three-piece steel band which appeared in the 1954 Broadway musical House of Flowers will be among the special lineup of individuals being honored at a Tribute to New York Steel Band Pioneers organized by the Trinidad & Tobago Folk Arts Institute, Sunday evening May 20. The gala event will be held at Tropical Paradise Ballroom, Brooklyn from 6:00 to 11:00 p.m.

Michael Alexander and Alfonso Marshall (whose name, after he subsequently became an actor, was changed to Austin Stoker) are the two surviving steelpan players from the 1954 production, which starred Pearl Bailey and was written by Truman Capote. The members of the history-making steel band unit were recruited from Trinidad by the noted Trinidad-born choreographer-director Geoffrey Holder, who was also in the House of Flowers cast.

The other honorees are Caldera Caraballo, Milton Gabriel, Edward George, Lennox Leverock, Roy Sangster and Kim Wong. Two well-known names associated with steel band activity in its early days here, Rudolph King and Conrad Mauge, will be honored posthumously. Among them, the steel band stalwarts selected for this recognition aggregated countless hours as leaders and players in the formative period of New York’s steel band culture, as they endeavored to introduce the new musical sound to American audiences. Their experiences ran the gamut from Caldera Caraballo’s touring with Harry Belafonte to Kim Wong’s collaborative projects with folk music icon Pete Seeger to Rudolph King’s sharing nightclub billing with calypso singer Mighty Charmer, prior to the latter becoming a household name in a different sphere as Louis Farrakan.

The idea for the tribute grew out of a panel discussion arranged by the Folk Arts Institute at Medgar Evers College which focused on the origins and early growth of the steel band culture in New York. Honorees Leverock and Sangster were participants in that exercise.

The Folk Arts Institute will also use the opportunity offered by the upcoming event to present a special award to the operators of the popular When Steel Talks web site for their dedication to the steelpan music idiom and its global reach.

Included in entertainment for the evening will be guest performances by acclaimed panist Garvin Blake and his band. Deejay music will be provided by Scobie.

Tropical Paradise Ballroom is located at 1367 Utica Avenue, Brooklyn (between Foster Avenue & Farragut Road). Tickets and further information for the Gala Tribute to New York Steel Band Pioneers are available from the Folk Arts Institute at 718-252-6161.