Inventor of the Steel Pan
By Thorne

In 1941, Ellie Mannette created the first steel drum in its current form. The Caribbean Music Museum Foundation has interviewed Dr. Ellie Mannette for
a documentary. Here are some excerpts from that interview:

How did you become involved with the steel drum or pan?

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.

What was your goal with the steel pan?

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.

What kind of musical background do you have?

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.

How was that decision viewed by your friends and family?

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.

How has your work been viewed over the years?

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.

Later, when I moved to the United States, people from Trinidad told me I was selling out my heritage. But over time, I started so many steel bands in the US that I became an ambassador of Trinidad culture. I have received many awards, including the Key to Trinidad and an honorary Doctorate from The University of The West Indies in Trinidad.

I stuck to my passion, and I am now somewhat of a Rock Star in Trinidad.

This article supports The Caribbean Music Museum and Hall of Fame Foundation, to sponsor the article please call the Beachtalk Staff or Thorne at 599 5224891 or 590 690387775.