Elliot Manette (Year of Birth: 1927)

Trinidad and Tobago Icons Vol 1

Elliot Mannette (popularly called Ellie) was born in Sans Souci in 1927 and grew up in Woodbrook, Trinidad. Beating on “anything he could lay his hands on”, his lifelong journey with the steelpan began at the tender age of 11, when he became involved in the rudimentary beginnings of the use of pans to create music.

As early as 1940 he helped organize a group called the Oval Boys, which later evolved into the Invaders Steel Orchestra, a group that he led for almost three decades. He built the first musical instrument from a 55 gallon steel drum (the same size of drum that is used today) in 1946 and he continued to tune pans for several bands and assisted their development in the early 1950s.

His scientific approach to instrument making refined the hit-or-miss tinkering, which initially was the common approach, into an orderly process that became the accepted standard. He was the first to use a concave surface of the oil drums for making the notes on the pan.

In 1950, Mannette was offered a scholarship to study music at the Birmingham School of Music. He turned it down to stay in Trinidad and continue his experimentation with pan. In 1951 he was the main builder and tuner for the historic tour of Britain and parts of Europe by the Trinidad All Steel Percussion Orchestra, which introduced orchestrated steelband music to the world.

He was invited to the USA in 1963 to build instruments and train players to develop the US Navy Steelband. Mannette relocated there in 1967 and began making a major contribution to broadening the vista of pan music. He has since introduced steelband music to scores of schools, colleges and community programmes throughout the USA.

Mannette was presented with the prestigious National Endowment for the Arts 1999 National Heritage Fellowship Award by US President Bill Clinton. In 2000, he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate by The University of the West Indies, St. Augustine, Trinidad.

Mannette is currently Artist-in-Residence at West Virginia University, where he is also CEO of Mannette Steel Drums and where he launched the Mannette Foundation. He continues to work with leading acoustics physicists and metallurgists on the science of the steelpan.