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FITUN Salutes The Life And Legacy Of Bertie Marshall

Global - The Federation of Independent Trade Unions and NGOs (FITUN) joins with many others in offering condolences to the family, friends, and community of legendary pan-tuner Bertie Marshall. FITUN also is saluting Marshall’s signal legacy as an innovator and tuner of the steelpan instrument.

And so another Golden Age pioneer has left us… Bertie Marshall is one of the great figures of 20th-century Trinidad and Tobago (T&T). He is a legendary pan-tuner, pan inventor, and innovator who accomplished magical acts of industrial innovation- without mainstream institutional support. Marshall is credited with introducing the harmonic tuning of Steelpan notes in 1956, as well as inventing the Double Tenor instrument. He was most significantly the first person to amplify the Steelpan-an invention that was destroyed in the-then Steelband wars of the time and unfortunately never replicated! Bertie never received the help to reconstitute his masterpiece… although he did attempt to do so with the resources at his disposal. Imagine if, in the 70s, Marshall had received university and industrial support for his experiments... Where then would pan have reached and to what heights would Trinbagonian civilization have climbed? Until this day the resonant amplification of pan is still an elusive grail of international engineers.

FITUN acknowledges that Marshall’s death is but the latest in the passing of this nation’s Golden Age generation. Trinidad and Tobago’s Golden Age existed from 1930 to the 1950s- an era of extraordinary achievement in which Pan, Mas, and Calypso came of age, ethnic festivals claimed the landscape, the trade union movement emerged, and Trinidad and Tobago made its firm steps towards Independence. The pioneers of that generation, that period, are all now aged 75 and over and have been leaving us. Since the year 2000 Trinidad and Tobago has lost over 18,000 of 20,000 VIP Elders in all traditions- the Arts, Science, Business, Politics, Law, and Civic Life… For most of our Independence T&T has been negligent in recording and honouring these heroes and pioneers. In this light FITUN is calling on the government to implement its Budget promises of the past 2 years to ensure that Golden Age pioneers like Marshall are honoured and documented properly, and that the Pan fraternity receives the facilitation it deserves with the regularization of tenure of panyards, the architectural re-design of panyards, and the like... The legacy of pioneers like Bertie must not have been in vain.

The late steelpan innovator and pioneer Bertie Marshall
The late steelpan innovator and pioneer Bertie Marshall

Marshall- like a handful of steelpan genius pioneers- can easily be said to be equals to international legends of music of the 20th century like Les Paul who introduced the solid body electric guitar and Gibson who pioneered the creation of the electric guitar. Pan pioneers like Marshall were on the cutting edge of sonic technology [several decades ago] in much the same way. We must ensure that generations not only know about Marshall’s contribution, but that there will be youths who will carry on the tradition of innovation and invention that Marshall embodied. Bertie developed the Quadrophonics, Six Pan and Twelve Bass together with Rudolph Charles of Desperadoes Steel Orchestra from Laventille. Marshall built and tuned instruments for Desperadoes since 1970 and it was his sound which became the distinctive sound of the Desperadoes steelband- even after others took over the major tuning practice. Marshall was also part of a project of the Caribbean Industrial Research Institute in 1982 which investigated the possibilities of machine production of Steel Pans.

Marshall, 74, leaves to mourn three children after succumbing to a lengthy battle with diabetes at his home in La Cou Harpe, East Dry River, Port-of-Spain. Pan Trinbago, the governing body for Pan, has promised that next year's Panorama steelband finals will be dedicated to the pan pioneer.

From the Desk of the President of FITUN