Bertie Marshall (1936-2012)

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Bertram Marshall (popularly called Bertie) was born in February 1936 and grew up in Laventille, Trinidad. As a boy, he watched pioneering tuners at work and came into contact with Winston “Spree” Simon who created the multiple notes on the convex metal containers used for making pans. These encounters sparked his interest in the steelpan and began his secret association with pan and panmen. He began playing openly only when his mother died in 1954, but had tuned his first pan long before.

Marshall quickly rose to the pinnacle of the art form and excelled in all its areas. He was the main tuner for the celebrated Desperadoes Steel Orchestra. He played in several bands in the mid-1950s then formed his own band. Dissatisfied with the range of lead (tenor) pans, he began experimentation to get the best sound from the instruments as components of a steelband.

In order to get high notes that were missing, he created the high tenor and then the double-tenor to accommodate lower notes. The most popular instrument in the steelband ensemble, the double tenor has a mellower sound and a musical range that makes it ideal for solo artistes. He also experimented with low pitch pans that made the difference in the total pan sonority.

Marshall introduced the first amplified pans on the road for Carnival in the mid-1960s. It was such a difficult feat that no other band has tried it since. His attempts at improving the technique led to the invention of the “Bertphone” in 1971, which combined tonal control and amplification using mixers and equalizers. Unfortunately it was lost in a fire at his home in 1980.

He contributed to the first scientific study of the steelpan at the Caribbean Industrial Research Institute in the mid-1970s. Unfortunately, the project was terminated before many of his ideas and innovations could materialize.

Bertie Marshall is considered a rare genius because of his inventions and a master tuner of high quality instruments.

Mr. Bertie Marshall passed away on 17th October 2012 at the age of 76 years.