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Leon “Foster” Thomas Pays Homage to Ken “Professor” Philmore

In the Year For Love, the man of love said “Goodbye”

Ken “Professor” Philmore
Ken “Professor” Philmore

Florida, USA - In less than a year, I have lost two of my musical idols: Melton Mustafa and now Ken “Professor” Philmore, both of whom I loved and adored dearly, who took time to school me about not only music, but also about life. However, with the loss of Ken, I find it very difficult to know what my Pan sounds like right now. It is because of Ken that I am where I am today.

Growing up in Pleasantville, San Fernando, Ken “Professor” Philmore was our superstar. You didn’t have to be a pan lover to know who the “Professor” was: he was on television doing Scotia Bank commercials, his version of Ralph McDonald’s Mr. Magic played regularly on the local radio, and he was the arranger for the pride of South Trinidad back then, Vat 19 Fonclaire. In my primary school days, whenever his white Toyota Corolla would pass us walking to school, we’d shout “Pro! Pro! Professor! Professor!” just to get his attention. I never imagined that we would begin working together or become very good friends.

I was 15 going on 16 years old when I first drummed for Fonclaire under “Professor” for the South Panorama in 1997. For those who remember, that was a Panorama for the bands that didn’t make it to the Panorama finals. The following year, I played my first National Panorama on drums; which was a big chance for him to take on a 16-year-old with no real Panorama experience…but that was the type of person Ken was. He was all about empowering the youth - where many didn’t believe, he believed. We formed a bond and friendship through music which broadened my view and understanding of Pan and its many capabilities.

I believe I have seen all sides of him, including the hurt of not winning Panorama with Pan by Storm, even though I was not around during that time. “Foster dey doh like meh boi .... ahhhh dada boi ...,” these are just a few of the phrases he would utter in anguish after a bad result in Panorama in the years that followed. Yet even with all of that, he would use it as fuel to keep going and as teaching tools for myself and others around him. Out of all the lessons I’ve learned from him, the ones that have always been the most important was to be loving and understanding and to treat your players with love and respect, for every pan player is a main ingredient in breathing life into the ideas of an arranger.

Ken “Professor” Philmore
Ken “Professor” Philmore & Leon “Foster” Thomas - Callaloo Jazz Concert @ Lou Rawls Performing Arts Center     (photo by Etta Kelly)

Ken “Professor” Philmore epitomized what it meant to be a performing steel pan artist. It was not only about just playing pan but about having all the mannerisms of being a professional. He believed that Pan should be on the biggest stages in the world. “Professor” was a true ambassador of the Steel Pan art form. He represented the steel pan community worldwide and Trinidad and Tobago wholeheartedly. And when we were liming with Pro, “We liming!” He was a celebrity amongst celebrities and the humblest man amongst the vagrants on the streets. He never hesitated to give his last dollar to those in need.

I am not too sure we have even skimmed the surface of understanding what Ken has done for the Steel Pan artform and his role in this still growing phenomenon we call Pan. I have been fortunate to share many stages and musical adventures with him and privileged to play some of his arrangements: Misbehave, Barbara, High Mass, Carnival is We (Fonclaire); Celebrating in Steel, Stranger, Rock the Boat (Invaders); Sharing Licks (Skiffle Bunch); Johnny, Surrender (Sound Specialists of Laventille). I am honoured to have succeeded him at bands such as Pan Sonatas (NY) and Fonclaire.

Ken “Professor” Philmore with graduates
Ken “Professor” Philmore (center, rear, in light grey) with graduates
(photo: Leon “Foster” Thomas)

I hope the steel pan community, especially in Trinidad and Tobago, will heed the examples set by Ken “Professor” Philmore. Let’s spread more love throughout. Let’s continue to seek the best for Pan, as Ken did.

Leon “Foster” Thomas
Leon “Foster” Thomas

In this difficult time, I want to send love, appreciation and support to Ken’s Family: Sophia Philmore, Keston, Kendra, Kenidi and Ricardo, sisters Gail and Antoinette and brother Brian.

To the People of Pleasantville, San Fernando and all of South Trinidad, the entire national and international Steel Pan Community and the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago: Let’s Celebrate the life of a great man and National Musical Icon.

To my friend and mentor Ken “Professor” Philmore, your veins bled LOVE, MUSIC and PAN. I will miss you dearly.

Godspeed. Heart ah love Dada!

Leon “Foster” Thomas

Leon “Foster” Thomas -
Performing Artist, Steelband Arranger, Composer, Percussionist, Educator

See more memories of Ken Philmore

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