Many who knew Desmond Waithe, 77, referred to him as “Uncle Desmond,” and so many mourned when news of his death was shared on Wednesday.
The noted steelband arranger, chorister, educator and University of Trinidad and Tobago (UTT) lecturer died on April 20 after a prolonged illness.
He was awarded the Humming Bird Medal (silver) in 1993 for outstanding contribution to music in TT. He is also well-known for his work with the Marionettes Chorale.
He was also the father of Melanie Waithe, head of Newsday's subediting department.
Pan Trinbago issued a statement about Waithe’s passing, saying he was a musician, educator, conductor and arranger who made a significant contribution to the steelpan community and to TT’s culture.
Pan Trinbago president Beverley Ramsey-Moore said in a phone interview on Wednesday that when she heard of his death on Wednesday morning she was shocked.
“Especially in this time, when so many of our musicians and our leaders in the pan movement are going home to be with the Lord. I was really shocked we lost another great man.
“We really want to express our condolences to his family, friends and Exodus steel orchestra. He was involved with Exodus and doing great work to build the orchestra.”
Exodus manager Ainsworth Mohammed said he had lost more than a friend, but a brother.
“Our relationship with Desmond started not just with Exodus, because we are all Tunapuna people.”
He said Waithe was with Nutones before that, and 1987 was the first time he arranged for the band for Panorama, choosing This Party Is It by Christopher “Tambu” Herbert.
“We were in the finals with that Panorama. Thereafter, he did classical music for us.
"Desmond’s relationship with Exodus is more than that too. Desmond was the founder of Exocubs, our junior music school.”
Mohammed recalled that Waithe was responsible for giving the music school its name. He said this came out of a session when the junior players were invited to play at an event in Connecticut, US.
“He has always helped out. He grilled the band.
"He is more than an arranger or music teacher for the band, he was more family. And so many of our people know him as Uncle Desmond and that sort of thing,” Mohammed said, becoming emotional.
He added however the family wished for him to be honoured, the bandwould do so.
“I have lost a friend and a brother. We grew up in Tunapuna, the families knew each other in Tunapuna. It was more than just the relationship with steelband and music. There was far more to it than it….it is more like a brother I have lost,” he said becoming emotional again.
BP Renegades president Colin Greaves said Waithe worked with Renegades for many years as its classical music director, a position he took up in 2007.
He said, in fact, Waithe took the band on multiple tours all over the world, including the largest classical music festival in France, La Folle Journee.
“Under his stewardship at La Folle Journee, BP Renegades would have really acquired a world-class and world-renowned reputation for being leaders in classical music repertoires.
“In addition to that, Mr Waithe was really a father figure in the band. So many of the players have been sharing stories about his involvement and influence on their lives, in terms of mentoring, advising them on what path they should take.”
He said Waithe was also a stickler for discipline and a father figure in the band and pan community.
“A couple of weeks or days before he passed – because we knew he was pretty ill – he was recently working with us up until December 2021, because we were preparing to go to La Folle Journee, but we had some issues with getting vaccination clearance documents and stuff,” Greaves said.
Waithe made it known then that it would have been his last trip with the band. He said the band cherished the last couple of months it was able to spend with Waithe.
He said Waithe's death is a huge loss to BP Renegades and the pan community.
He added that Waithe expressed his final wishes to the band and in the coming days it will announce details of wakes in the panyard, among other plans.
One of his best friends, veteran pierrot grenade Felix Edinborough, said he first met Waithe at Mausica Teachers’ College. Waithe taught him to play the cuatro then, he said, and they were both in the Mausica Teachers’ choir.
After Mausica, Waithe formed a choir called Chaconia Singers and Edinborough was also a member.
“Anytime he wanted a script – he would do little shows – I would be the one writing the script, organising and directing the shows for him,” he recalled.
Waithe formed another choir after this called Stentor Choir and they also worked together there.
“We did some tours together. For example, we went to Montserrat together with the group to do some shows,” he said.
Edinborough said he and Waithe also worked together with late dancer Molly Ahye and toured the US and Canada with her.
Waithe also worked on Best Village shows for Tunapuna and Edinborough for Petit Valley, but they “always collaborated because we were in Belmont together (Belmont Boys' Secondary School).”
Waithe taught there for over 33 years.
Edinborough said Waithe was like a brother to him and anytime he wanted to know more about music and the cuatro, Waithe would help him.
“We were a good team together. We did one or two shows together at Queen’s Hall,” he said.
Dr Mia Gormandy-Benjamin, assistant professor of music at UTT and artistic director of Trinidad All Stars Steel Orchestra – who worked with Waithe at UTT and who was also once his student – said Waithe was an icon and walking encyclopaedia.
“If you met him, you surely would have heard a story or two about the history of calypso, pan, parang, or any other local style of music. He was also kind, generous, and a witty individual who cracked jokes very easily, which made everyone around him laugh heartily.”
She added that he was a teacher, friend and colleague to many and his impact was clearly shown through the widespread response to his passing.
“Today we shed tears of sadness, but also of joy for having had the opportunity to know this amazing and inspiring individual. We will forever remember him through the beautiful music he has written and the legacies of the many organisations he has impacted,” she said.
Waithe leaves to mourn his wife Melissa Lynch Waithe, children Melanie, Jace, Marvin and Jordan and five grandchildren.