Antigua & Barbuda, W.I. - There are few - if any - steelpan music greats that can claim that a sitting Prime Minister spoke at their funeral.
On November 13, 2008 Antigua and Barbuda national cultural icon and Harmonites pan player Leroy “Jughead” Gordon made his transition and passed on. And exactly two weeks later on November 27, a defiantly beautiful and sunny afternoon served as the backdrop for the home-going service and celebration of his life.
And before the actual church service at St. John’s Cathedral in the country’s capital of the same name, Harmonites International Steel Orchestra - whose very “blood” coursed through the veins of Gordon - accompanied his casket (riding in a pan rack sporting three pans atop front, and tastefully draped with the colors of Antigua & Barbuda's national flag) on its journey via Long Street to the cathedral, joyously and unceasingly stirring up emotions with their heartfelt delivery of the Beatles classic, Yesterday. Several players with obviously reddened eyes gave it their all, in honor of “Jughead.”
When Steel Talks had been in Antigua for the annual Moods of Pan concert. Leroy “Jughead” Gordon was one of the great steelband leaders of our time.
No obstacle would inhibit the approximately 25 to 30 Harmonites International musicians atop the long flatbed being pulled through Long Street by tractor - not even the vehicles choking the route by parking on both sides of the road. That final journey of Gordon’s casket rolling up to the cathedral included some of Gordon’s closest family, friends, fellow musicians and more.
Before the cortège got to St. John’s Cathedral, however, several of the vehicles would - literally - be bodily ‘heaved’ (pictured) and lifted marginally out of the way by a small but dedicated legion of people, allowing the tractor towing the flatbed of Harmonites musicians to barely squeak by in each case. From the impromptu legion of ‘movers’ or ‘strategists’ would be heard several calls of “Hold it!” as they quickly surveyed; and shortly after ‘making the clearance,’ those would be followed by yells of “OK!” A series of deft and swift plans facilitated a pass by of each offending vehicle. Crowds thronged the route, some taking in the superb and unending rendition of Yesterday by the steel orchestra, others going about their own business - but all pausing and collectively holding their breaths just before the ritual of getting past each parked vehicle was completed.
Incidentally, the song Yesterday was to have been Harmonites International’s tune of choice for what was subsequently officially billed “The Cool & Smooth Gemonites Moods of Pan 2008 Leroy “Jughead” Gordon 25-A-Side Steelband competition in honor of the national cultural icon. As it turned out, the crowds lining the streets had ‘front row seats’ to what would be the only public showing/performance of the song - as Harmonites would not participate the following night [Friday] for the competition.
Moving uphill via Long Street, the procession included several Antigua & Barbuda pan notables, led by Harmonites’ captain Simon Toulon, and past band captain and also past Antigua & Barbuda Pan Association president - Leon Kuma Rodney, who both pulled the casket of “Jughead” all the way up to the beautiful and venerable St. John’s Cathedral, which contrasted a mainly wooden but attractive and very detailed interior - with its stone exterior. Mainly due to the recurrent challenges of getting past vehicles along the route, the cortège arrived at the church after the scheduled service start time of 1:00 p.m.
A small representative contingent of Hell’s Gate Steel Orchestra had been playing on the church grounds (pictured) as people entered the church. The service got underway as arriving Harmonites players and others outside found seats inside the practically full church, which, with the very warm weather, found attendees alternately seeking seating close to the several fans, or had them fanning away in an effort to remain cool. Wooden columns inside the church all featured colored images of Leroy “Jughead” Gordon positioned benevolently above the congregation.
During the proceedings, and attempting to slip in as inconspicuously as possible, was a constant stream of people, many coming from what appeared to be their jobs, others - students in school uniform; all obviously had ‘gotten away’ whenever possible to make an appearance for the funeral service. As the number grew, so did the overflow just outside of the cathedral’s entrances.
Several tributes were paid by peers, friends, family, and government officials, including Antigua & Barbuda Prime Minister, the Honourable Baldwin Spencer, who as a panman himself, remains affiliated with his former band Halcyon Steel Orchestra. The Prime Minister (pictured) is also a past president of the country’s steelband association, and overall maintains a close relationship with the steelband fraternity of which “Jughead” was a highly regarded member.
During the celebration of his life, a choir, calypso group and, of course, panists and more - all paid homage in performance to “Jughead.” Of the orators, one in particular was quite blunt in noting that it was common knowledge that many people had profited and received accolades based on “Jughead’s” initiative, achievements and dedication, with the icon himself being conveniently passed over when, with regard to his output, there was a metamorphosis from the “voluntary” into the “income-generating” phase.
A particularly touching, sometimes hilarious yet poignant tribute was delivered by his daughter Dali, in the format of a “Note from Daddy” - which verbalized what the family believed would be “Jughead’s” ‘take’ with reference to those gathered, and on the scene unfolding there and then as he and his legacy were remembered.
With the tributes and performances, the November 27 service was more than three hours - but there could probably be a consensus that still, there was a lot left unsaid when reflecting on the life of a man such as Leroy “Jughead” Gordon who, in the opinion of many, had an effect on much in Antigua & Barbuda - not only on the pan scene, but also on the fabric of the country’s cultural front. One year has gone by since his own passing - but the impact of cultural and pan icon Leroy “Jughead” Gordon on this twin-island nation is one that has been apparently historic.
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