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Movement for Social Justice Pays Tribute to SteelPan Genius Bertie Marshall

Global - The Executive, Activist Council and members of the Movement for Social Justice (MSJ) join his family, the rest of the national community and the regional and international steelband movement in mourning the loss of Bertie Lloyd Marshall who left us last Wednesday 17th October. He was an ordinary man who did extra-ordinary things to advance the steelband instrument and its music.

Bertie was born in 1936 in the working class community of Laventille at a time when Trinidad was in industrial turmoil and the transition from Tamboo Bamboo to Dustbin was in full gear. By the end of World War Two (WWII) notes appeared on the drums and Bertie, as a schoolboy, experienced and witnessed this transition as there were several steelbands in his and the surrounding communities. These experiences impacted greatly on the young Bertie Marshall as evidenced by his lifelong commitment to the development of this indigenous musical instrument.

He became the leader of Highlanders Steel Orchestra, a legendary steelband from his community that excelled in: tonal quality; repertoire; playing techniques and performances. Thousands of people, mainly youths, played Mas with Highlanders on Carnival days. The band was also famous for their renditions of classical music at the J’Ouvert Bomb Competitions. Highlanders, led by Bertie, was a community institution that attracted youths who were engaged in the practice and performance of music, advanced playing techniques (using three or four-sticks) and tuning.

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

Bertie Marshall is often described as a perfectionist who challenged tradition while seeking excellence in tonal quality and music. Without formal training, he ventured into the fields of: Science of Sound; Acoustical and Sound Engineering. Using the limited resources at his disposal and driven by a passion for perfection, he introduced, developed and mastered Harmonic Tuning in steelband instrumentation. Bertie created the Double Tenor which can now be found in steelbands all across the world. He also designed and produced the Bertphone an avant-garde steelband instrument that addressed resonance of notes. It was Highlanders that introduced amplified pans in the steelband on the road, long before brass bands. Highlanders also introduced canopies covering the pan racks to protect the instruments from the effects of the sun and rain.

Bertie was a Musical Arranger for his band, preparing music for the full orchestra or an ensemble and playing a repertoire of Classical; Contemporary; Calypso; Latin and Religious music. Highlanders was one of the first steelbands to perform in church in concert at the Trinity Cathedral with its full choir and pipe organ. He was also a Virtuoso Player on Tenor where he would improvise during live performances and recordings.

Among other things, Bertie Marshall was a Teacher/Educator. Alvin Romain, Tony Slater, Clifford Alfred and Vincent “Taboo” Taylor all became full-time professional Tuners; they were all members of Highlanders and were exposed to their craft by Bertie himself. He was, later on, a Lecturer at the Advanced Pan Tuning Programme at the University of Trinidad and Tobago (UTT) where he taught groups of young Tuners to become Master Tuners.

He served as advisor to many people in the steelband movement: Leaders; Tuners; Arrangers; Players and Administrators, all of whom benefitted from his wealth of experience and knowledge whenever he was approached. Bertie was also a community-minded person, those who lived close to him speak of his generosity to parents, children and others, and he was always there for them.

The Movement for Social Justice salutes the contribution Bertie Marshall has made to Trinidad and Tobago and the world of Steelband Music, he has touched the lives of many and his legacy will live on in the five continents of the world where our national instrument is played.

Bertie Marshall…you have done your part and you did it well…we salute you; a true patriot, an innovator and a true genius…Rest in Peace.

Movement for Social Justice (MSJ)