Inventor of the Steel Pan
In 1941, Ellie Mannette created the first steel drum in its current form. The Caribbean Music Museum Foundation has interviewed Dr. Ellie Mannette for
EM: I heard in 1939 that Spree Winston dented a biscuit tin bottom out and had got four notes. I was intrigued and tried to do the same thing but could not. Then in 1941 I sunk the bottom in, the exact opposite of the current process. By making a concave shape rather than a convex one I was able to get additional tones.
EM: I always listened to classical music, even as a child. The music was so beautiful that I wanted to create the sounds of the Orchestra on the pan.
EM: I never had musical training. I was offered a scholarship to study music in London in 1949 along with some other boys from Trinidad. So I went to London, but decided I wanted to go back to Trinidad and develop the pan.
EM: Everyone was upset with me and told me I had no ambition, but I proved them wrong. I invented seven of the 10 steel drums: the Low Lead, Double Second, Guitar, Cello, Bass, Tenor Bass and the Quaduet.
EM: In the early days we were considered criminals because various types of drumming had been outlawed in Trinidad since the 1880’s. We needed the oil drums to make the steel drum and no one would sell them, so we stole them from gas stations and the naval base. One day, the Admiral of the Navy called me because he knew I was stealing his drums and I had to repay by starting the Navy’s Steel Pan Band.
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