RIP Cur­tis Pierre – A soldier of pan falls…

TT – Last Sun­day, the steel­band world was sad­dened by the pass­ing of one its stal­wart icons, Cur­tis Pierre, 84. A Bel­mont boy, who sub­se­quent­ly resided in Wood­brook, amongst Pierre’s best-known achieve­ments was his suc­cess at in­te­grat­ing the steel­band move­ment, at­tract­ing fair-skin “col­lege boys” in­to its fold at the turn of the 50s when he at­tend­ed St Mary’s Col­lege, hav­ing pre­vi­ous­ly at­tend­ed Bel­mont Boys In­ter­me­di­ate School.

Iron­i­cal­ly, while at­tend­ing St Mary’s, it was a Catholic priest (Fr Girod) who drew Pierre to pan in 1949.

Tak­ing to the in­stru­ment like a duck to wa­ter at a young age, not sur­pris­ing­ly, Pierre got stern ob­jec­tion over his at­trac­tion to what was then con­sid­ered an in­stru­ment for hooli­gans, ruf­fi­ans and crim­i­nals. His moth­er was es­pe­cial­ly ve­he­ment that he should not play the in­stru­ment.

But, Pierre was de­ter­mined to mas­ter the in­stru­ment, at­tract­ing fel­low stu­dents from pres­ti­gious St Mary’s and Queen’s Roy­al Col­lege, in­clud­ing teenagers like the late George Ng Wai, Mervyn Telfer, Hady Lee, Bil­ly Car­pen­ter and Ju­nior Pouchet.

It might have been con­sid­ered a nov­el­ty back in 1949, a steel­band be­ing re­gard­ed some­thing that boys from be­hind the bridge played, get­ting in­to fights and oth­er forms of so­cial dis­or­der, but Pierre made every­one sit up and take no­tice when he and his band of light-skin boys formed Dix­ieland Steel Or­ches­tra. This was a steel­band com­pris­ing in the main light-skinned youths from the up­per mid­dle-class; most of them stu­dents of the pres­ti­gious St Mary’s Col­lege.

Pierre was ac­tu­al­ly Dix­ieland’s sec­ond cap­tain, the first be­ing Ernest Fer­ri­era, a youth of Por­tuguese de­scent who formed the band when he was just 15 years old. In 1951, lead­er­ship of the steel­band passed to Pierre.

In an in­ter­view, Pierre is doc­u­ment­ed as stat­ing: “The group­ing in my band would be con­sid­ered a lit­tle above mid­dle class … which (made it) anath­e­ma, that kind of thing was just not done by peo­ple in that class.”

In 1951, Dix­ieland went on the road for the first time. That year the band al­so was be­ing rat­ed along­side “big bands” like In­vaders, Casablan­ca, North Stars, Ris­ing Sun, All Stars, South­ern Sym­pho­ny and Katzen­jam­mers.

In 1953, Pierre was cho­sen to rep­re­sent T&T in the Trinidad All Steel Per­cus­sion Or­ches­tra (TASPO) II to Mi­a­mi. In the years 1956 and 1957, Dix­ieland car­ried steel­band mu­sic in­to the coun­try clubs, yacht clubs and homes of so­ci­ety’s up­per stra­ta. The band al­so made a strong im­pres­sion on the road at Car­ni­val time when they brought out their own mas­quer­ade bands. These in­clud­ed War­riors, C Bees and Sioux In­di­ans among oth­ers. Dix­ieland steel­band nev­er lost touch with its “col­lege boy” be­gin­nings and was al­ways con­sid­ered a young peo­ple’s band.

Pierre was at the helm of Dix­ieland in 1960 when the band made a clean sweep of the Trinidad Mu­sic Fes­ti­val, play­ing Pierre’s arrange­ment of An­gus Dei, win­ning the pre­lim­i­nar­ies, quar­ter­fi­nals, semi­fi­nals and fi­nals, beat­ing such bands as In­vaders, Casablan­ca, Rene­gades and North Stars. In the same year, Dix­ieland, with ten years of per­for­mances be­hind them, cut their first long-play­ing al­bum.

Pierre toured Eng­land fol­low­ing that ini­tial suc­cess of Dix­ieland, the band mem­bers pay­ing their own fares to the UK. The band al­so toured Italy, Zim­bab­we and the Unit­ed States of Amer­i­ca. In 1961, Dix­ieland em­barked on ex­ten­sive tour of Scan­di­navia, Am­s­ter­dam, Paris, Dus­sel­dorf, Rome, Lusa­ka and Sal­is­bury, South­ern Rhode­sia where they were guests of the In­ter­na­tion­al Con­gress of African Cul­ture (ICAC). Here, what was ini­tial­ly a four-day sched­ule of per­for­mances, stretched to six weeks, such was the over­whelm­ing ac­claim for the band from Trinidad.

The tour­ing en­sem­ble in­clud­ed Miguel Bar­radas, Rus­sel Valdez, Fred Tot­saut, Trevor Cum­ber­batch, George Ng Wai, Hady Lee, Lennox Lang­ton, Lau­rice “Pops” Lash­ley, Michael “Nat­si” Con­stant, An­gela Christo­pher and Pierre.

In 1968, Dix­ieland placed third in the Na­tion­al Panora­ma com­pe­ti­tion, play­ing Pierre’s arrange­ment of Kitch­en­er’s Miss Tourist.

Pierre’s last year of ac­tive par­tic­i­pa­tion with Dix­ieland was in 1974. For the next ten years his in­volve­ment was with the ad­min­is­tra­tion of the steel­band move­ment. He al­so served as a judge at the an­nu­al Panora­ma com­pe­ti­tion and worked close­ly, with the leg­endary Pan Trin­ba­go pres­i­dent the late George “Son­ny” God­dard, and with the late Prime Min­is­ter Dr Er­ic Williams, for the pro­mo­tion and gen­er­al im­prove­ment of pan.

A jack of all trades, Pierre wasn’t just about pan. Hav­ing first worked at Singer & Co, he moved on to JN Har­ri­man & Co Ltd, serv­ing as a di­rec­tor there, in charge of Ko­dak Pho­to­graph­ic and Full-o-Pet Feed Mill. Pierre was al­so a politi­cian of sort, serv­ing in the ONR and sub­se­quent­ly in the NAR. He al­so found time to found the Dix­ieland Pan Acad­e­my.

One of steel­band’s most en­dear­ing and af­fa­ble sol­diers, Cur­tis Pierre in­flu­enced the lives of many pan play­ers and fu­elled changes in at­ti­tude to­wards the na­tion­al in­stru­ment and its prac­ti­tion­ers.

Pierre’s fu­ner­al is ten­ta­tive­ly sched­uled for Fri­day, at 9 am, at St There­sa’s RC Church, Wood­brook, fol­lowed by cre­ma­tion at the St James Cre­ma­to­ri­um, Long Cir­cu­lar Road, at 11 am.