The Story of Steelbands and the Steelband Art Form in St. Vincent - UpClose!

A When Steel Talks Exclusive


The first ever steel band competition to have taken place as part of Carnival celebration occurred on Carnival Monday 1949 during J’Ouvert Celebrations.


The first two organized steel Orchestras in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines Caribbean Boys and Syncopaters participated and fittingly tied. As a matter of interest this was one of only two ties recorded in the annals of steel band competition here in our beloved Youremien. The other tie took place during Carnival 1976 when the Heineken Abbucalypse Steel Orchestra and Commercial Union Assurance Starlift for first place in the Bomb Competition The Steelband Bomb Competition introduced in 1973 called for Steel Orchestras to play a non-calypso song/classical music piece in Calypso tempo. As you may have guessed only those two bands participated in the 1976 version of the Bomb Competition.

Starlift Steel Orchestra of St. Vincent and the Grenadines
Starlift Steel Orchestra of St. Vincent and the Grenadines

During the 1950’s steelband competition was a regular feature of Carnival celebrations. This included not only a band competition, but, also a tenor pan competition for individual players noted for their dexterity. These were the early pioneers. Participants were called upon to play a “test piece” which was usually a non calypso. Bands also played a test piece non calypso in slow tempo followed by a calypso of choice. That calypso of choice had to be a newly released calypso for the particular year of competition and before 1970 was usually one out of Trinidad and Tobago.

Steelbands have come from all parts of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. From Chateaubelair, Fancy and Union Island they have journeyed to Kingstown to compete in the Panorama Competition.

By the year 1958, almost every village in Saint Vincent could boast of having a steel band including an All Girls Steel Orchestra from Spring Village. This was a first for the artform in the world.

From the Community of Long Wall came the Katzenjammers later renamed All Stars. The first steel band to play classical music was the Melody Makers who was based at Middle Street in the City Center. This band included Sybil Millington the first woman ever to play pan in St. Vincent.

In 1973, the test piece was discontinued and from that year until 1978 steelbands were called upon to play two calypsos, one of which had to be local. From 1981 onwards bands have played a single calypso in Panorama Competition.

  Starlift Steel Orchestra - St. Vincent - Live in New York


Apart from Caribbean Boys led by the legendary Dennis `Lunie” Alexander and Syncopaters under the leadership of another legend Ardon `Panna’ Daisley the early steelband competitors of note were Rising Stars whose captain was Frank Laborde, Vin Cato’s Melody Makers Ju-c, Sun Valley Boys of Sion Hill led by Allington Leacock and Commandos which later transformed Theophilus Franks Fru-T All Stars on Bay Street, Star Stylers of Murray’s Village, Pan Invaders of Frenches under another legend Edmond Paddy Corea and other bands in Paul’s Lot, Sion Hill, Belair, Barrouallie, Layou, Chateaubelair and Campden Park.

The 1960’s and 1970’s saw the emergence of new bands, the break up of old ones and formation of other groupings. Tuborg Steel band was led by William Bute and Donald `Duck’ Llewellyn, and there was FIAU Stars from Union Island, the famous Palm Island Silver Stars, Heineken Savoys of Barrouallie, Labour Stars Paul’s Lot, Valley Harps Rose Place, Atragons, Marsicans, Steegy’s United of Calder, V.V.All Stars of Victoria Village, Fru-T City Invaders of Quarries who later became Sherwin Williams Supertones and Ebonites, Simon Superstars, Honesty of Point, Night Train of Stubbs and Kindreds who originally hailed from Greggs but was later based in Union Island. Then there was Calliaqua Symphony and later Disco Harmony of Calliaqua and Vinlec Power Stars. The first School Steelband came out of the Saint Vincent Grammar School. For many years the Royal Saint Vincent and the Grenadines Police Force boasted of a highly successful Police Steel Orchestra which won the first three Panorama Competitions.

In the 1980’s and 1990’s came Coard International of Stubbs, North Windward Harmonium whose base was Overland, Georgetown’s We Boys Country Style, Spring Village Pan Vibes, We Fantasia of Edinboro, Sion Hill Euphonium, Tennents Valley Harps of Rose Place, Montrosonics and Hairoun Bishops College Steel Orchestra of Bishops Secondary School.


Eleven steel orchestras have won the Panorama Title since the competition was begun in 1962. It was mentioned earlier that the Police Steel Orchestra won the first three titles in 1962, 1963 and 1964. They were followed by the famous Esso Engro Steel Orchestra led by Leroy Clarke who dominated Panorama between 1965 and 1968. In 1969 Coca Cola Harmonites captured the title and later rebranded itself for whatever reasons into Young Island Harps, Heineken Abbucalypse and finally 20th Century Steel Orchestra. Harps won in 1972, Abbucalypse in 1976 and 20th Century in 1981.

In 1973 Sherwin Williams Supertones created an upset by beating their way to the Panorama Championship. Hairoun Bishop’s won in 1993 and Vinlec. Potential Steel Orchestra in 1994. Actually, Potential had won the first and last ever Panorama title for small bands in 1981.

Apart from those years Panorama has been completely dominated by the Starlift Steel Orchestra who have captured a record nineteen titles. Between 1982 and 2001 there was no Panorama Competition on eleven occasions. One can only speculate on how many more panorama titles Starlift might have won had the competition been held every year since its inception in 1962.

More recently Sion Hill Euphorium Steel Orchestra has ruled the Panorama scene with nine victories between 2008 and 2018. In 2015 and 2017 Starlift Steel Orchestra won the Panorama competition with Duvone Stewart as arranger.

In 2015 Starlift Steel Orchestra represented St. Vincent and the Grenadines at International Conference and Panorama held in Trinidad. Starlift placed 15th.

St Vincent & The Grenadines - Teaser - 2015 International Steelband Panorama

St. Vincent Panorama results

click to see Steel Orchestras of St. Vincent

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