Steelpan Arranger
Ray Holman - Steelpan Arranger
WST Pan Photographer

Ray Holman

Ray Holman - Skiffle, Starlift
Panorama Championships
Trinidad & Tobago - 1969, 1971

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Ray Holman

Composer, arranger and steel drum performer from Trinidad, Ray Holman is perhaps the most talented proponent of his art form internationally.

He has arranged and recorded with steel bands and artists in the U.S., Canada, Latin America, Japan and Europe, including televised performances with the German National Orchestra which showcased his compositions. He composed the highly acclaimed score for Black Orpheus, staged by Crossroads Theatre Company in New Jersey in 1991, and has been a featured performer in film, television and at venues such as Madison Square Garden, the Super Bowl and the St. Lucia Jazz Festival.

A University of the West Indies graduate and former high school teacher, he has conducted workshops at West Virginia University and was a Commissioned Composer in the California State University Summer Arts Program. He regularly attends the bi-annual steelband tuning and arranging workshop at Humboldt State University in Arcata, California and has done presentations at meetings of the Percussive Arts Society. During 1998-2000 he was a distinguished Visiting Artist in the Ethnomusicology Program at the University of Washington, Seattle.

Ray has won many prestigious musical awards, including the Hummingbird Silver Medal of Merit from the Government of Trinidad and Tobago and a Pan Legend Award from the New York Folk Arts Institute and the U.S. Congress. He was recognized for his musical contribution by the Republic Pan Fiesta 2003, A Tribute to Ray Holman.

IN 1957, Ray began playing pan at 13 with Invaders Steelband, led by legendary pan tuner Ellie Mannette. Later, he became its arranger, doing classical interpretations such as “Dream of Olwen” and “Etude in A b.”

In 1963, Holman and others revived the band Starlift, and his arrangements made it the then most popular band in Trinidad. He had instant success with “I Feel Pretty” from the musical “West Side Story.”

At 20, he won the solo Ping Pong (an early version of the tenor pan) competition in the 1964 Trinidad and Tobago Music Festival. He began experimenting with the jazz idiom as a soloist, while touring and performing on television with the Queen’s Royal College Jazz Group led by his teacher Scofield Pilgrim.

Ray emerged as the most musically progressive steelband arranger, and his innovative arrangements won two Panorama championships for Starlift in 1969, with Lord Kitchener’s “The Bull” and in 1970 with the Mighty Sparrow’s “Queen of The Bands.”  In 1972, he became the first arranger to compose and play his own music for the National Steelband Panorama competition. Appropriately titled “Pan On the Move,” the composition won the National Preliminaries and is now a musical landmark. Since then, he has arranged for many top steelbands, including Pandemonium, Carib Tokyo, Exodus, Phase II Pan Groove, Hummingbirds Pan Groove.


Editor's note:  On Saturday October 30, 2021 Ray Holman was awarded an honorary Doctor of Letters (DLitt) by The University of the West Indies (The UWI)

Additional info below posted with special permission from the by Ronald C. Emrit - check link for updates

PLACE OF BIRTH: Woodbrook, Port-of-Spain, Trinidad
  • Queen's Royal College
  • University of the West Indies (B.A. in Spanish)
  • Invaders (1957 - 1962)
  • Starlift (1963 - 1974, 2002)
  • Player
  • Arranger
  • Composer
  • CAREER: Holman began his steelband career with Invaders in 1957 and, by 1961, had become an arranger of classical interpretations such as "Dream of Olwen" and "Etude in Ab." In 1963, he moved over to Starlift where he had instant success with "I Feel Pretty" from the musical "West Side Story." He won the soloist competition in the 1964 Steelband Music Festival at the age of 20, up to that time. In 1969, Starlift won its first Panorama title when he arranged Lord Kitchener's "The Bull." His arrangement of Mighty Sparrow's "Queen of The Bands" in 1971 won Starlift a share of the Panorama title with Harmonites. In 1972, he made Panorama history when he became the first man to compose, arrange, and play his own tune after Starlift played "Pan on The Move" and placed third. He stayed at Starlift until 1974 and then became a freelance arranger for several bands including Exodus, Pandemonium, Tokyo, Phase II Pan Groove, Humming Birds Odyssey Pan Groove, and Power Stars. In 2006, he returned to Starlift and took the band to the Panorama final. The following is a summary of Holman's record in the Panorama competition:
    • Starlift
    • 1964 - "Bullpistle Gang" (Mighty Sparrow), 3rd
    • 1968 - "Jane" (Mighty Sparrow), 2nd
    • 1969 - "The Bull" (Lord Kitchener), 1st
    • 1970 - "Pan Man" (Mighty Sparrow), 2nd
    • 1971 - "Queen of the Bands" (Mighty Sparrow), 1st (Tied)
    • 1972 - "Pan on the Move" (Ray Holman), 3rd
    • 2006 - "If We Really Want" (Ray Holman), 3rd
    • Pandemonium
    • 1976 - "We Kind of Music" (Ray Holman), 3rd
    • 1977 - "Panyard Vibration" (Ray Holman), 3rd
    Lord Kitchener paid tribute to Holman in his 1990 calypso "Iron Man." In 1997, Holman did a live television performance in Cologne, Germany, with calypsonian David Rudder, American jazz panman Andy Narell, and Vince Mendoza. He was hired in 1998 as a visiting artist by the University of Washington in Seattle, Washington, USA, to teach pan music. Holman's musical compositions spanned 40 years and include:
    • 1961 - Ray's Saga
    • 1970 - Socking It With Steel
    • 1972 - Pan On The Move; Up Tight; Pan Right On
    • 1973 - Pan On The Run
    • 1974 - Super Pan
    • 1977 - Panyard Vibrations
    • 1978 - The Pan Revolution
    • 1980 - Panyard Rhapsody
    • 1981 - Odyssey in Steel
    • 1982 - Musical Showdown
    • 1983 - J'Ouvert Bounce
    • 1985 - Groove Baby
    • 1987 - Pan Woman
    • 1988 - My Band
    • 1989 - Carnival Is For Woman; Life's Too Short
    • 1990 - Pan In Meh System; Plenty Lovin'
    • 1991 - Special Brew
    • 1992 - Steelband Paradise
    • 1993 - Pan
    • 1994 - Panic
    • 2001 - Heroes of Our Nation
    • 2004 - Don't Stop the Carnival
    • 1988 - Trinidad & Tobago Humming Bird Medal Silver (for Contribution to the Development of Music for the Steelpan)
    Compiled by Ronald C. Emrit

    An Exclusive When Steel Talks Interview with Ray Holman

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