Steel band fraternity in Brooklyn mourns passing of Trini ‘Iron Man’ Hansel Leon

Hansel Leon, Sr. (left) and his son, Hansel Leon, Jr.
Krishanda Leon-Jemmott and Natasha Leon-Craigwell

The steel band fraternity in Brooklyn is mourning the passing of Trinidadian “Iron Man,” Hansel B. Leon, Sr., who died in his native land on March 25. He was 77.

Leon’s daughters, Krishanda Leon-Jemmott and Natasha Leon-Craigwell — both residents of Brooklyn — told Caribbean Life on Sunday that their father died at Couva Hospital in Trinidad and Tobago.

“As a family, it is still unclear of how he died,” they said in an interview.

But Herman Hall, the Grenadian-born publisher of the Brooklyn-based, Caribbean American magazine, Everybody’s, posted on Facebook, on March 26, that Leon, who resided in Flatbush, Brooklyn, was “a victim of COVID-19.”

He said that Leon – who promoted steelpan music in the US for almost four decades and “was once married to (the) popular Jean Leon, well known Trinbagonian-New Yorker and former Director of Nursing at Kings County Medical Center – made his annual pilgrimage to Trinidad & Tobago carnival on Feb. 5; he remained in his birth country to avoid wintry New York.”

Hall said Leon, who was a welder by occupation, “fell ill on March 13 and (was) admitted at Couva Hospital.

“Based on his early departure from NY, he may have contracted the deadly virus in Trinidad & Tobago,” Hall wrote.

Jean Leon, who was actually a chief executive officer at the sprawling Kings County Hospital in Brooklyn, told Caribbean Life that she and Leon were divorced 23 years ago.

She referred the paper to Leon’s elder daughter, Krishanda, for more information about her ex-husband’s passing.

Krishanda then sought out younger sister, Natasha, to join the interview.

“Daddy had an ear for timing and rhythm like no other,” they said. “He played many roles in the steel band fraternity. His talents allowed him to play many percussion instruments skillfully, including the tenor steel pan.

“He was well known for playing the iron, thus his nickname the ‘Iron Man’,” they added. “He did not only bring his musical talents to this community (Brooklyn) but also his smile, personality and dance moves.”

Hall also said that Leon “beat the iron in the rhythm section of several steel band orchestras in Brooklyn, as they rehearsed for Brooklyn’s panorama at the Brooklyn Museum grounds every Labor Day weekend, and added ‘riddim’ in most soca / calypso parties and concerts.

“A diehard fan of calypso, steelpan, carnival and other events that promoted the culture of Trinidad & Tobago, ‘Hanny’ (Leon) was a regular or ‘limer’ at Sesame Flyers, the popular cultural and educational organization on Church Avenue, Brooklyn,” he said.

“He attended calypso tents and shows presented by Everybody’s magazine,” Hall added.

Joyce Quamina – the Trinidadian-born, former long-standing treasurer of the Brooklyn-based West Indian American Day Carnival Association (WIADCA), the group that organizes the annual Caribbean carnival extravaganza in Brooklyn – said Leon was “a good ‘Iron Man’.

“I know him beating the iron,” she told Caribbean Life tersely.

Krishanda and Natasha said that the family was “deeply saddened, devastated and heart broken,” over their father’s passing.

“No amount of words can describe the loss that the family feels,” they said. “It is unfortunate that we had no contact with him weeks before his death, after many requests to speak with him.

“Daddy was full of life and, according to the other patients that were reported in the news, he was able to shine some of his light and positivity on them while in the midst of their battle with the virus (coronavirus – COVID-10) and given circumstances,” they added. “He was jovial, altruistic and loved by all he encountered.”

In stating her personal sentiments about those who are infected by COVID-19 and the families who are affected emotionally, Natasha said that “remaining in contact with family and friends who are on smaller islands, like (those in) the Caribbean and are away from their immediate family, is not only essential but also comforting and could be ‘prosperous’ to the mental health of all involved.

“Updates on their care and progress should be mandatory to offer condolences through these traumatic times, because, after all, healing goes far beyond medicine,” she advised.

Natasha and Krishanda said the steel band fraternity in Brooklyn “has acknowledged that they have lost a great addition to their community.

“There has been an outpouring of love from the steel band fraternity,” they said. “Many have reached out to offer their condolences and (to) share happy memories that they had with him.

“The steel band community has expressed great willingness to attend and contribute music in memory of my father,” added the sisters, disclosing that their father was cremated the day after his death.

“Due to the current circumstance with COVID-19, the family is unaware of when we can have a service and memorial for my father,” they continued. “However, when time permits, we will indefinitely give him the home going service and memorial that he deserves.”

Natasha and Krishanda said that their father, who was born on Nov. 13, 1942, in San Fernando, Trinidad and Tobago, lived in New York for 49 years.

Besides Natasha and Krishanda, Leon is survived by his only son, Hansel Leon, Jr.; his sisters Angela, Earline, Judy, Emerald, Valerie and Betty; grand-children Dorian, Alanah and Melania; many nieces, nephews, cousins; “and many others who loved him dearly,” Natasha and Krishanda said.