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Sterling Betancourt MBE

Trinidad born Sterling Betancourt grew up in Laventille and began his musical career in the 1930s as a tamboo-bamboo player. He later played the early three note tenor developing his skills as a pan musician with Hell's Kitchen, Hugh Borde's Tripoli Steel Band and as the leader and tuner of Crossfire.

In 1951, he was selected as a member of the Trinidad All Steel Percussion Orchestra (TASPO) for a tour to England as part of Trinidad's historic contribution to the Festival of Britain. The band also included Winston 'Spree' Simon, Ellie Mannette, now based in the United States and Tony Williams.

Music selection from 'Trinidad All Steel Percussion Band'.

At the end of the TASPO tour Betancourt stayed on in England forming the first steelband combo in the UK with pianist Russell Henderson and doo-doop player Ralph Cherrie and later Mervyn Constantine. The trio performed all over London for radio shows, jazz clubs and BBC television.

Betancourt encouraged the British school system to recognise the value of pan, starting with Croydon and later achieving success when the Elmwood Junior band performed as finalists for the National Music Festival at the Royal Albert Hall.

As a professional pan musician and arranger Sterling toured around the world to Indonesia, Hong Kong, Bahrain, Dubai, Germany, France, Spain, Italy, and Switzerland, teaching and playing music, and crafting steel pan instruments.

In 2002 Betancourt was made a Member of the British Empire in the Queen's New Year's honours list.

Sterling Betancourt MBE tells of TASPO's historic visit to The 1951 Festival of Britain

In 2011 Betancourt featured in the BBC2 documentary 'The 1951 Festival of Britain - A Brave New World', a sixtieth anniversary film in which Betancourt paid homage to TASPO with his self penned calypso 'TASPO's Story' recreated, with his blessing, on Reading All Steel Percussion Orchestra's second album 'RASPO Rhythms'. More...

TASPO's Story by Sterling Betancourt MBE
'Sixty years ago I want the whole world to know
In 1951 for the Festival of Britain
The steel band association said a steel band must go
After many suggestions they named the the steel band TASPO

Trinidad All Steel Percussion Orchestra
That is the sound that make me remember
I said Trinidad All Steel Percussion Orchestra
That is the sound that remain for ever and ever.'

In 2012 Betancourt contributed to Jools Holland's film 'London Calling' about the musical history of London shown on BBC in June of the same year.

Sterling Betancourt MBE and Lord Kitchener feature in Jools Holland's film.

The film shows footage of the 1948 arrival of the Windrush at Tilbury Docks with Lord Kitchener's impromptu rendition of his self penned calypso 'London is the Place for Me'. The film also shows rare clips of TASPO at the 1951 Festival of Britain.

In March 2013 the Trinidad and Tobago High Commission in London hosted an event in Sterling's honour where he launched his latest CD 'TASPO Story', a tribute to TASPO and a celebration of 60 years of steel pan in the UK.

Sterling launches his book 'London is the Place for Me' at The Tabernacle in London.

In 2014 Betancourt launched his biography 'London is the Place for Me' at The Tabernacle in London's Notting Hill. The book, written by Bel Kais, charts Sterling's journey from his childhood in 1950s Trinidad and his prestigious UK premiere as a musician with Trinidad All Steel Percussion Orchestra to his current status as a global steel pan pioneer.

Article compiled by Mary Genis

Trinidad All Steel Percussion Orchestra's Sterling Betancourt in 1951

Trinidad All Steel Percussion Orchestra's Sterling Betancourt in 1951

"I think the steel pan has moved a long way since it first started. There's a great future for the steel pan in Britain."

Sterling Betancourt MBE

Trinidad All Steel Percussion Orchestra

Sterling Betancourt MBE

TASPO member Sterling Betancourt MBE with RASPO's artistic director Mary Genis

Sterling Betancourt, Trinidad All Steel Percussion Orchestra member, steel pan musician and pioneer of Trinidad's unique art form.

Pic by Kevin Joseph


Mary Genis of RASPO with TASPO's Sterling Betancourt 2012

Mary Genis, artistic director of Reading All Steel Percussion Orchestra (RASPO) meets living legend Sterling Betancourt MBE.

The pan pioneer is the only UK based member of Trinidad All Steel Percussion Orchestra (TASPO).

In 2014 he honoured RASPO by becoming a Patron.