International News

Apr 2, 2017

Congratulations to Cliff Alexis for receiving an honorary doctorate

USA - Congratulations to Cliff Alexis for receiving an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters (L.H.D.) degree from Northern Illinois University (NIU)! The doctorate will be conferred on Friday May 12th at one of NIU's commencement ceremonies. NIU Steelband will celebrate the achievements of Cliff Alexis on Sunday April 30th at 3pm (CST) at the Boutell Memorial Concert Hall, School of Music, Northern Illinois University, DeKalb, Illinois. The concert will also be streamed live at

Clifford "Cliff" Alexis was born in the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago in 1937 and began playing the steelpan at age fourteen in various steelbands in the nation's capital. In 1964, Alexis travelled to the United States on a tour as a member of the National Steelband of Trinidad and Tobago. After the tour, in 1965, Alexis decided to make the US his home where he continued to carry out his mission of promoting and educating others about the steelpan. He arranged for the BWIA Sunjets Steelband in Brooklyn, NY, and arranged and performed with his own band, the Cliff Alexis Trinidad Troubadours, throughout the US for many years. In 1973, Alexis was hired by St. Paul Public School District 625 in the state of Minnesota where he served as a steelband director and tuner for 12 years. On two occasions, Alexis received the prestigious Minneapolis/St. Paul "Outstanding Black Musician" award.

In 1985, he joined the staff at the Northern Illinois University (NIU) School of Music. He, along with Al O’Connor, created the steelpan studies program where students could major in steelpan as a primary instrument. His responsibilities included maintaining and upgrading the school's large inventory of steelpans, arranging, composing, and co-directing the NIU Steelband with O’Connor and, later, Liam Teague.

Alexis was commissioned by the Percussive Arts Society to compose and arrange all of the music for the mass steelband concert organized for the 1987 Percussive Arts Society International Convention (PASIC) in St. Louis. In 2000, Alexis composed “Pan 2000”- one of two pieces performed by the NIU Steelband at the World Steelband Music Festival in Trinidad. The ensemble achieved second place in the competition.

He has been the recipient of numerous awards from various institutions and professional organizations throughout the years. In November, 2013, Alexis was inducted into the Percussive Arts Society Hall of Fame and in March 2014 he was honored by Pan Trinbago in Trinidad for his distinguished service to the steelpan movement. In addition, he has been inducted into the Sunshine Hall of Fame with a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2002. In 2011, Alexis was featured in the film entitled “Hammer on Steel” produced by the University of Akron and Public Broadcasting System (PBS) earning him two Emmy nominations by the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences for Special Event Coverage and Musical Composition/Arrangement.

Alexis is also in high demand as a speaker, clinician and tuner. In May 2012, Alexis was selected to be the keynote speaker for the first International Steelpan Conference held in the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago. He has lectured at the National Public Library in Trinidad, delivered the feature address at the launch of the Pan Development Fund at the Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago’s residence, and was a featured guest speaker at the University of Akron Steelband’s 30th Anniversary Celebration and the Silver Stars Steel Orchestra 60th Anniversary in Trinidad. Alexis was featured as a guest clinician and an adjudicator at the Annual PANorama Caribbean Festival held in Virginia in 2010, 2014, and 2016. Alexis highly cherishes his time working with students as a mentor and friend and continues to devote his life to the development of the steelpan.