HUGH BORDE left us on February 18. Although it was not a shock to hear this news, it brought a flood of emotions and memories of a dear friend. We met by chance, standing in a line waiting for service. Over the years I grew to know him as a generous, caring, funny, talented, gentle man and a giant in the pan world. He was an extraordinary Trinidadian.
At this time in our history, it is worthwhile and encouraging to look at what one of our own accomplished.
As one of the founders of the steelband movement, he witnessed the birth of the steel pan from the instruments that preceded it and had intimate knowledge of its history.
In 1945, he formed his first 12-member steelband called Hell’s Kitchen, sponsored by the Robinson Crusoe Rum Company. This was the first organised sponsored steelband in TT.
In 1951, he was appointed musical director and band leader of the Trinidad Tripoli Steelband and was the longest reigning steelband leader in history.
In 1962, Borde was appointed by prime minister Dr Eric Williams to a committee set up to prevent steelband clashes and rioting among the bands. This resulted in the formation of the National Steelband of TT, which brought together leading players from the different bands and improved relations amongst the bands. The National Steelband consisted of 44 members and went on to travel internationally including to England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales.
In 1964, he took Tripoli to its very first victory, winning the Prime Minister’s Trophy playing the lead tenor pan. Once again he took the band on international tours to the US, Canada and other Caribbean islands, taking steelband music to a higher level.
In 1966 the National Steelband performed at the Royal Albert Hall in England, with Queen Elizabeth attending the command performance and later for Princess Margaret on the Royal Yacht Britannia. That year Tripoli played for Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie I on his visit to TT.
In 1967, Tripoli played to an international audience at Expo 67 in Montreal, Canada, in the TT pavilion. World famous pianist/entertainer Liberace witnessed the band’s performance and decided he absolutely wanted the band to be the opening act on his 1969 concert tour.
Liberace would later introduce the band using these famous words: “I’ve never before had the thrill of introducing an entire group of people such as the one and only Trinidad Tripoli Steelband. This group is the first touring act I have seen receive a standing ovation at every performance.”
Due to the success of the tour, Liberace contracted the band to tour with him for another year, introducing thousands more in the US and beyond to steel pan music.
Tripoli was the only steelband to appear on every major television show in the US, including The Ed Sullivan Show, The Mike Douglas Show, The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, The Merv Griffin Show, and The David Frost Show. The band also performed at Carnegie Hall, Radio City Music Hall, the Waldorf Astoria, the Hollywood Bowl, Las Vegas Hilton, the Sahara Hotel, Caesars Palace, the Flamingo Hotel, the Golden Nugget Casino, Harrahs Hotel in Lake Tahoe, the Diplomatic Core in Washington, DC, the Rockefeller Plaza in New York and the Museum of Fine Arts in Montreal.
Borde and his band appeared on the Jerry Lewis Telethon in 1969 with such stars as Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr, Bob Hope, the Smothers Brothers, Barbara Streisand, The Jackson Five with Michael Jackson, and Dionne Warwick and also did a one-year tour with Sergio Franchi.
His band released 14 albums and in 1972 it was nominated for a Grammy Award in the category of Island Music for its album Liberace Presents. He toured the US with family members from 1977 until his health declined recently. Their touring included colleges, state fairs, conventions and corporate and club engagements all over the US. Their repertoire ranged from classical to calypso, jazz, country, polka and rock and roll – all on steel drums. He also lectured at colleges and universities across the US.
Borde is the only TT steelbandsman to receive the Gold Medal of Merit from a US president, Ronald Regan, for his contribution to steelband music – “the new art form of musical bands in the United States.” He did two command performances for two US presidents.
In 1995, he was inducted into the Hall of Fame at the Caribbean Sunshine Awards in New York City. He was also inducted into the Hall of Fame at the Motown Metro Musical awards in Detroit, was granted the Kentucky Colonel Award in Steelband Music and received the Hummingbird Medal Award in TT.
Every year he brought together pan players of all ages from the industry to meet and enjoy each other, share stories and honour the steelband movement by holding the popular Pan Pioneers Day. Borde is one of the first steelband musicians selected by the pan musicians themselves to adjudicate the annual national steelband competition called Panorama and he did this for many years.
More than anyone else, Hugh Borde brought steelband music to the wider world. Because of his excellence as a musician and band leader, he dedicated himself to presenting nothing other than professional musicians, stellar performances and world class music. He gave steelband music world credibility and took it from its modest beginning and advanced it to a musical art form for people from all over the world to appreciate and enjoy.
What is undeniable is that we’ve lost an extraordinary Trinidadian who gave a lot to his community and made the pan world and our country proud.