Eustace Archibald Cornell “Manning” Henry - Antigua & Barbuda

(September 1929 - March 2020)


Jessy J. Stafford Joseph – Senior Panthologist

1995 Hells Gate 50th Anniversary Concert - Interpretation Center, Shirley's Heights, Antigua
1995 Hells Gate 50th Anniversary Concert - Interpretation Center, Shirley's Heights, Antigua

“Eustace ‘Manning’ Henry, a pioneer, the unrivalled master pan Builder/Tuner/Blender, player, soloist, tutor, leader and genuine cultural hero, must be accredited for the phenomenal survival of the Hells Gate [aka Hellsgate] Steel Orchestra and the steelpan art form in Antigua & Barbuda.”

Pan – His Story

Mr. Henry’s involvement in the band was unknown to his mother and also his grandmother. Being very much aware of how strict they were and how they viewed such gatherings (Iron Band), he had to make sure that whenever the band was performing, he kept out of their sights and avoided entertaining any discussion(s) in their presence regarding the band.

On one occasion, when Mr. Henry was newly enrolled into the “Iron Band”, he was so taken up with his performance, that he was not aware that the band had trespassed into the established “NO PLAY ZONE”. He only realized that he was all alone with his instrument in his hand and the other band members were running northwards on Pope’s Head Street. He was arrested by the police and taken to the St. John’s Police Station. After Mr. Henry told the police his age and that he did not know the name of the band’s leader, he was briefly questioned, cautioned and released. After his release, he met the band at the corner of Pope’s Head and St. John’s Streets. During the early years, resultant of how most of the ‘Caucasians ‘and ‘Blacks’ (with their privilege and monopoly handed down from slavery), viewed the grass-root natives of Antigua and Barbuda, and especially gatherings like the “Iron Bands” and Steel Bands, a “NO PLAY ZONE” starting from the junction of New Gate and Thames Streets, going eastwards and turning right onto Market Street, leading southward and ending at “The Bridge”, was established. The revellers from “The Point” would cease their performance at the junction of New Gate and Thames Streets and walk quietly down to “The Bridge” and then continue their performance. The revellers from Ovals and the Gray’s Green Community had to undergo the same discrimination.

Flag of Antigua & Barbuda

In 1946, the crafting of the ‘Ping Pong’ (steel pan) began at Townsend’s Blacksmith Shop which was located on Mariner’s Lane. Mr. Henry, a young enthusiast, was a quick learner, and progressed swiftly in the craftsmanship of ‘steelpan’ building, with the assistance of Alexander “Elick” Roberts and Cecil “Spoiler” Phillip, a senior pan builders, tuners and pannists, and Mr. Joseph Townsend, a highly recognized and skilled artisan.

In 1947, the band was officially named Hells Gate, by ‘The Point’ Community.

With the introduction of the steel pan, Mr. Henry quickly proved that he was not only a pan builder, but also mastered the art of playing the instrument. His leadership qualities also came to the fore at this young age, with humility. During this period, other members of the band built their own instrument [pan]. However, it was not too long before Mr. Henry became the sole builder, tuner and blender of Hells Gate Steel Orchestra. He was very unique with the exceptional quality finish of the instruments he built, and was also envied for the uniqueness of the tonal quality of his instruments. The late Dr. Eric Williams discovered this in 1959, when he served as Chief Minister of Trinidad and Tobago. Hells Gate Steel Orchestra travelled to Trinidad in February 1959, and the performance there, gave the “Doc” and the Trinidadian Pan Fraternity, a rude awakening.

As a young man, Mr. Henry lived on Bryson Street, Villa Area, with his grandmother, a dedicated Adventist and disciplinarian. She had no knowledge that he was a member of Hells Gate or affiliated with the band, so he had to hide his ‘lead pan’ in the garden. One rainy day, Mr. Henry could not leave the house, so he stayed quietly in his room and listened to his grandmother singing her favorite hymns. He was tempted to go for his pan but was afraid of doing so. Eventually he got the courage to slipped outside, collected his pan and returned to his room unnoticed. He dried the pan, got his sticks and began to accompany his grandmother with the hymn she was singing. His grandmother stopped singing. He stopped playing. She continued singing and he continued to accompany her. His grandmother stopped singing for the second time and started to walk towards his bedroom. ‘Mr. Henry’s heart pounded. He felt that this was the end of life for him.’ His grandmother entered his room and blustered out, “why you all call the band Hells Gate?” He could not find any words with which to respond. He held his breath, frozen with the pan on his lap. Then in a calm voice, his grandmother said, “I did not know that those things could play such lovely music.” His grandmother’s voice was like the warmth of the sun, which caused him to return to a state of relaxation. He smiled to himself. Victory for the Pan. The acceptance of the pan by his grandmother was a milestone achievement for Mr. Henry.

Mr. Henry travelled with Hells Gate on its annual tours to the United States Virgin Islands, the British Virgin Islands and the Leeward Islands in the early years. On one return trip, the schooner picked up a cargo of salt in Anguilla and while heading for Antigua, the boat sprung a leak. “Big man start fu barl”. The schooner’s captain took evasive action and sailed to Montserrat where he docked the schooner. The schooner sunk soon after the pans and other cargo were off loaded.

On another return trip to Antigua, Mr. Henry and the other band members had to be transferred from a schooner to dinghies just off ‘The Point’ Wharf. It was during the hurricane season in the early 1950’s and the schooner could not berth at the dock.

Mr. Henry was Hells Gate’s lead pan player for a number of years and won many solo competitions. As a lead pan player, he always welcomed challenges. No matter the intricacies of the rhythms, Mr. Henry never failed to execute the piece as intended. He performed with Hells Gate at the St. Peter’s Anglican Church in 1950, Government House in the late 1940s and in the 1950s, performed for Princess Margaret in 1955 at Clarence House, performed for Sir Winston Churchill on the 2nd March 1960 at Nelson’s Dockyard, on board the yacht, “The Christina” and at the opening of the Mill Reef Club on August 21, 1949, where he first played the national anthem of the USA.

In addition to the annual tours to the United States Virgin Islands and the Leeward Islands, the other tours Mr. Henry made were: Trinidad - 1959; New York World Fair – 1964; Toronto (Caribana) and Montreal – 1968; Minneapolis, Minnesota – 1971; Mexico:- Mexico City, Cancun, Cozumel, Isla Mujeres – 1991; Rochester New York & Manhattan NY – 1992; West Germany – 1992; Aruba (to assist in the revival of the steel pan art form) – 1997; Rochester New York (the John Marshall High School Steelpan Project) – 1999 and 2001, and Toronto – 2002.

Mr. Henry captained Hells Gate from 1958-1977. Being a dedicated family man and committed to God, his country and people, Mr. Henry, unlike many of his contemporaries who migrated to the United Kingdom and the USA, chose to remain in Antigua. By keeping Hells Gate alive, Mr. Henry kept the steelpan art form alive. This has certainly resulted in the positive growth of pan in Antigua and Barbuda, today. Hence, because of Mr. Henry’s humility, integrity, hard work, diligence, commitment and dedication to the steelpan art form, Antigua & Barbuda is highly rated in the steel pan world. Even of more importance, he must be accredited for Hells Gate being the “THE WORLD’S OLDEST STEEL ORCHESTRA”.

Notwithstanding the fact that he was no longer a regular performing member of Hells Gate Steel Orchestra, Mr. Henry was always present around the Orchestra and continued to give sound advice and at all times, demonstrating good quality leadership. He however, never tried to supersede the present leadership of the Orchestra. He is indeed a father to all of us.

In September of 2002, the Eustace ‘Manning’ Henry Steel Pan Academy was established upon principle and moral values. The hallmark of Mr. Henry; the high standard of performance displayed by the students of the academy and discipline exhibited is indeed a true reflection of Mr. Henry.

Mr. Henry would, whenever negative criticisms are thrown at Hells Gate Steel Orchestra, would calmly say to us the members, “Hells Gate is NOT a moon band. The moon shines with a borrowed light”. He would then leave us to ponder what he meant.

He had very high regards for punctually. Whenever the band had an engagement, no matter the venue, he was always on time. When it is time to start playing, he would commence playing regardless if was there alone.

Mr. Henry was a disciplinarian and never hesitated to discipline (reprimand/suspend) the best player at any time (for an infraction committed), Panorama or other occasions. During rehearsals and performances, he would never fail to remind the band members of the “NO ALCOHOL” and “NO SMOKING” rule.

   Hells Gate Steel Orchestra 2007 

Mr. Manning was ambidextrous and would often-times display his ambidexterity, performing the melody with one hand and the harmony/arpeggio with the other hand - eg. “Annie Laurie”. He had the ability to perform two different pieces at the same time – “Auld Lang Syne” / “I Understand”; “When the Saints Go Marching” / “Dominique” to name a few.

He possessed great concentration skills which he encouraged the band members to adapt by way of his tutoring. He tested the band members concentration skills teaching them to perform “Hang Em High” and “For A Few Dollars More”, in calypso genre. He taught the soprano section and the alto section how to perform both pieces at the same time (Soprano section performing one piece and the Alto section the other piece) and to exchange the pieces without pausing or breaking the rhythm.

The scarcity of good quality used 55 gallon drums on Antigua, gave Mr. Henry the impetus to experiment with the drums that were available to him. He was determined to be a leader and not a follower. Hence, with pride, dedication and great determination, he honed his skills to becoming a Master Steelpan Builder, Tuner and Blender, ‘par excellence’. It must be noted that unlike his contemporaries who used a cannon ball or a ballpein hammer for ‘sinking’ the drums, Mr. Henry’s tool used for ‘sinking’ the drums, was a unique metal pestle. He prided himself on creating and was opposed to duplicating.

   Hells Gate Steel Orchestra 2013 

“Skip” as we respectfully called him, was so humble a man, he never took credit for the many positive and invaluable contributions he made to Antigua and Barbuda, the Global Steelband Movement, the wider community and culture, as a whole. It is undoubtedly clear that we continue to benefit immensely from his invaluable contributions. On June 26th, 2002, Mr. Henry was awarded an ‘Honourary High School Diploma’ by the John Marshall High School of Rochester New York, for his lifetime dedication and service in the field of culture, with special emphasis on the Steelpan.

In 2015, Mr. Henry was awarded the Grand Cross of the Most Precious Princely Heritage GCH, for unswerving and dedicated service to culture in Antigua and Barbuda. The roundabout leading to the Deep Water Harbour was renamed in his honour. Though Mr. Henry, “Skip”, “Manning” is physically gone from us, the foundation he has laid for pan in Antigua and Barbuda is embedded in our memory, heart and soul and will be his legacy forever.

Rest in Pan - RIP

   Hells Gate Steel Orchestra 2014 

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