Bertie Marshall, steel pan innovator extraordinaire, was recently honoured by the Ministry of Works and Infrastructure and the Highlanders Steel Orchestra when they held a small ceremony for the official renaming of the Old St Joseph Road to the Bertie Marshall Boulevard.
Family, friends, pan enthusiasts, pan tuners and pan players flocked under a big white tent at the corner of Erica Street and the Bertie Marshall Boulevard, Success Village, Laventille on October 17 to pay tribute to the man, they say, where sweet sounds on the steelpan will continue to live on.
In the afternoon ceremony, Father Clyde Harvey moved for a moment of silence in remembrance of Marshall.
Grand daughter, Damara Marshall, shared her heartfelt appreciation for those who loved her grandfather and shared his vision to see steelpan grow.
She said, “Grand dad was a man of many talents who left us all a rich legacy. He was a wonderful father and grandfather but most of all he was a true steelpan extraordinaire who transformed the sound of the great steelpan in the 90s. For that he will always be remembered and loved by the people of Trinidad and Tobago.”
Born February 6, 1936, Marshall was a longtime resident of Success Village, Laventille and resided for many years on the Old St Joseph Road at the corner of Erica Street, where he led the Metronomic Steel Orchestra then the Armed Forces Steel Orchestra and finally the Highlanders Steel Orchestra.
Secretary of Highlanders Steel Orchestra, Robert Hernandez said, “This was a labour of love by a group of Bertie Marshall’s protégés, fans and people who grew up in this neighbourhood with Bertie Marshall. We took on this project and completed it in less than year.”
“There has been a tremendous amount of excitement within the community through this week. The people of Laventille have felt an energy we have not felt in a long time. This would have been a great for us where we have an occasion to celebrate a son of the soil; a product of Laventille. This is someone who has done extraordinary things for not just our culture but for Trinidad and Tobago,” he said.
Regarded both nationally and internationally as one of the greatest innovators and researchers of the steelpan, Marshall was awarded the Chaconia Medal (gold) in 1992 and the nation’s highest award, the Order of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago (ORTT) in 2008.
He was also awarded a full Professorial Fellowship by the University of Trinidad and Tobago (UTT) in 2005 and appointed to head the Advanced Pan Tuning programme and teach classes in the University’s School of Arts, Letters, Culture and Public Affairs Pan Lab.
He was also the musical arranger for Highlanders Steel Orchestra and directed the band in playing a repertoire of classical, contemporary, calypso, Latin and religious music. Under his stewardship, Highlanders Steel Orchestra became one of the first steelbands to perform in a church at the Holy Trinity Cathedral with its full choir and pipe organ.
Marshall was also recognised by the Trinidad and Tobago National Carnival Commission in 2003 when the ‘Bertie Marshall Jouvert Pan Contest’ was introduced that year and steelbands were required to play songs that he had made popular with Highlanders Steel Orchestra.
Honouring Marshall with true pan flair, King Austin brought back memories for some in the audience when he sang “Progress”.
Father Harvey said, “Look especially upon our young people who are in so many ways challenge to make pan grow. We ask you oh Lord to rise up another generation of pan artistes and tuners who can raise the standard and carry the tradition even further.”
Minister of Arts and Multiculturalism, Dr Lincoln Douglas noted that he was one of those persons that grew up with people who thought pan was a very bad thing. He said it was one of the reasons why he did not learn to play the pan. However, he commended the hard work and perseverance of Marshall and others who were instrumental in bringing the steelpan to a level of maturity.
He said, “I have found that pan, steel pan in general, remains to me, the iconic symbol for Trinidad and Tobago.”