Meet Clifford Alexis, arranger, tuner, panist and member of the 1964 ‘Trinidad & Tobago National Steelband’ - UpClose!

A When Steel Talks Exclusive

“.... It was my first time traveling - this was my first time traveling on a plane... All MRA wanted to happen with the steelband was... we didn’t have enough money. “Get the band to Miami and we will do the rest.” - Clifford Alexis

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Global - In 1964 twenty-two members of the Trinidad and Tobago National Steelband toured the United States and created steelpan music history. Among the virtual who’s who of outstanding panists who were picked for the tour was noted NIU (Northern Illinois University) tuner, steelpan instrument builder and program director Clifford Alexis.

Clifford Alexis
Clifford Alexis

In this exclusive interview with When Steel Talks - Clifford Alexis shares his thoughts and memories on this historic undertaking, the 1964 Trinidad and Tobago National Steelband and more. Listen to the exclusive interview below.


WST - “Who put the actual tour together?”

Clifford Alexis - “The tour was put together by the people from the Moral Re-Armament (MRA), specifically a West Indian cricketer by the name of Conrad Hunte. I don’t know if you know that name.  He was a member of the West Indies cricket team. He was from Barbados. And MRA had a conference in Michigan and they had invited George Goddard who was the president of the Steelband Association of Trinidad and Tobago at that time. And Mr. George Goddard’s response to the people was, “I have something better - what I can do, I have a band - a steelband.  And I would like them to go on this tour.”

Trinidad and Tobago National Steelband 1964
Trinidad and Tobago Steel Band returns from 1964 tour -
From (L to R) Back row - Lennox Glean (Wonderland), Kelvin Hart (City Syncopators), Herman Collins (Sun Valley), Osmond Charles (Savoys), Hugh Borde (Tripoli), Emmanuel “Jack” Riley (Invaders), Steve Regis (Sun Downers), Rudolph Johnson (Fascinators), Morrison Romeo (Starlift - Tobago)
Front row (R to L) - Elton John (City Symphony), Kenneth Bennett (San Juan All Stars), Clifford Alexis (Stereophonics), Vincent Hernandez (Satisfiers), Desmond Hernandez (Melodiscs), Randolph St Louis (Renegades)
Missing from picture: Junior Pouchet (Silver Stars), Errol Zephrine (Starlift), Lennox “Bobby” Mohammed (Cavaliers), David Williams, Winston Mc Clean (Metronomes), Glenford Sobers (Crosswinds), Norbert Augustine (Wonderland Symphony), David Samuel (Prodigals), Herbert Benjamin (Casbah - Tobago) and George “Sonny” Goddard, Leader and Manager of the National Steelband.
Information from Clifford Alexis and the publication ‘Forty Years in The Steelbands 1939-1979’ by George “Sonny” Goddard.

WST - “Can you tell us what the repertoire at the time consisted of - what you can remember?”

Clifford Alexis - “....What I want to say about the National Steel Band - it was 44 members when it started, however they only wanted 22 to go on this first US tour. I want to give some credence to the other guys. There were 44 members of this band. Getting back to the repertoire, we had several arrangers, we had several arrangers and several tuners. Because George Goddard had said, when they were selecting for this band - “Send your best player, tuner, or arranger. That’s what happened. Junior Pouchet from Silver Stars was one of the arrangers, Errol Zephrine from Starlift was one... -- tuners Vincent Hernandez...[Emmanuel] “Jack” Riley, Winston Mc Clean.”

National Steelband performing on Mackinac Island Michigan
National Steelband performing on Mackinac Island, Michigan, USA

Thirty nations and 1,256 delegates were attending the conference. The keynote comment of the conference chairman, J. Blanton Belk was: “We will answer the hate and prejudice and the violence in this nation across the world and these (the steelbandsmen) by their obvious unity in a multi-racial society are the guide and the hope”.” - Forty Years in The Steelbands 1939-1979  p.136 - by George “Sonny” Goddard.

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