Boscoe Holder

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Boscoe Holder (16 July 1921 – 21 April 2007), born Arthur Aldwyn Holder in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, of Barbadian descent in part, was Trinidad and Tobago's leading contemporary painter, who also had a celebrated international career spanning six decades as a designer and visual artist, dancer, choreographer and musician. In 1948 he married the dancer Sheila Davis Clarke, daughter of radio personality Kathleen Davis (a.k.a. "Aunty Kay"), and their son Christian was born the following year. Christian Holder eventually became a leading dancer with the Joffrey Ballet and an artist in his own right.[1] Living in London, England, during the 1950s and 1960s, Boscoe Holder has been credited with introducing limbo dancing and steel-pan playing to Britain,[2][3] performing on British television and radio, in variety and nightclubs, in films, and at well-known theatres in the West End. His company also danced for Queen Elizabeth II at her coronation in 1953, and, in two years later, at Windsor Castle.[4]

His younger brother was the actor Geoffrey Holder - perhaps best known for his role as the villain Baron Samedi in the 1973 James Bond film Live and Let Die.[5]

Early life[edit]

Born in Trinidad to Louise de Frense and Arthur Holder from Barbados, Boscoe Holder was the eldest of five children.[6] He attended Tranquility Intermediate School and Queen's Royal College. He started a musical career at a young age, playing the piano professionally for rich French creole, Portuguese and Chinese families. In his teens he began painting seriously. He was an early member of the Trinidad Art Society, along with people such as Ivy Hochoy, Hugh Stollmeyer and Amy Leon Pang.[7] Holder also formed his own dance company, the Holder Dance Company. His style carefully preserved Afro-Caribbean tradition. His paintings and dances were inspired by the shango, bongo and bélé dances, of the slaves. In 1947, he visited the US, where he taught dancing and exhibited his paintings, and on his return to Trinidad, in 1948, he married Sheila Clarke, his leading dancer.[8] Boscoe's younger brother, actor Geoffrey Holder - perhaps best known for his role as the villain Baron Samedi in the 1973 James Bond film Live and Let Die - joined Boscoe's dance company at the age of seven.[9]

London years[edit]

In April 1950[10] Boscoe with his wife and son went to live in London, which became their home for the next two decades.[11] He formed a group by the name of Boscoe Holder and his Caribbean Dancers, and introduced the first steel drums to England on his own television show, Bal Creole, broadcast on BBC Television on 30 June 1950.[10][11] The company toured all over Europe and further afield (Finland, Sweden, Belgium, France, Spain, former Czechoslovakia, Italy, Monte Carlo and Egypt),[6] and in 1953 performed at the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, representing the West Indies.[12][13] Holder and his wife appeared again before the Queen in 1955, at a Command Performance at Windsor Castle.[11]

From 1959, for four years, Holder produced, choreographed and costumed the floorshow in the Candlelight Room of The May Fair hotel, where he also formed and led his own band, The Pinkerton Boys,[11] who alternated there with Harry Roy's orchestra.[4] Holder later co-owned a private club called the Hay Hill in Mayfair.[11] He danced in Nice, Monte Carlo, and Paris with Josephine Baker. He also continued to paint and his work was exhibited at various UK galleries including the Trafford Gallery, the Redfern Gallery, the Commonwealth Institute, the Castle Museum Nottingham, the Martell exhibition of Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture at the Royal Watercolour Society Galleries, and the Leicester Gallery.[6]

Return to Trinidad[edit]

After being based in London for 20 years, in 1970 Holder returned to Trinidad[11] and quickly re-established himself as a painter. Since that time his work has been exhibited all over the Caribbean and elsewhere internationally. His paintings can be seen in collections throughout the world, preserving the West Indian culture. In 1981, a Holder painting was presented by the then President of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, Sir Ellis Clarke, as a wedding gift from the nation to Prince Charles and Lady Diana.[14]

In October 2011, an exhibition of 50 of Boscoe Holder's artworks was dedicated at the Upper Room Art Gallery at Top of the Mount, Mount St Benedict, St Augustine, Trinidad, as the Gallery's contribution to the United Nations proclaiming 2011 as the International Year for People of African Descent.[15]

Holder died at the age of 85 in 2007, at his home in Newtown, Port-of-Spain.[16] He had suffered from prostate cancer, as well as complications from diabetes.[17][18]

Awards and honours[edit]

In 1973, in recognition of Boscoe Holder's contribution to the Arts, the government of Trinidad and Tobago awarded him the Hummingbird Medal (gold) and named a street after him.[19]

In 1978 the Venezuelan government presented him with the Francisco De Miranda award.[11]

Then Mayor of Washington DC declared 22 May 1983 as Boscoe Holder and Geoffrey Holder Day, in recognition of the brothers' contribution to the arts.[20]

On 7 April 1991, Boscoe Holder, his son Christian, and brother Geoffrey received, in Philadelphia, the first Drexel University Award for International Excellence.[11]

On 31 October 2003, Boscoe Holder was awarded an Honorary Degree of Doctor of Letters (DLitt) by the University of the West Indies.[11][21]

In December 2004 the government of Trinidad and Tobago issued an official Christmas series of postage stamps featuring six of Holder's paintings.[11]


  1. ^ Christian Holder website.
  2. ^ Peggy Schwartz and Murray Schwartz, The Dance Claimed Me: A Biography of Pearl Primus, Yale University Press, 2011, p. 117.
  3. ^ Lloyd Bradley, Sounds Like London: 100 Years of Black Music in the Capital, London: Serpent's Tail, 2013, p. 68.
  4. ^ a b Obituary by Christian Holder, The Stage, 1 June 2007.
  5. ^ "Geoffrey Holder, Bond villain and dancer, dies aged 84", BBC News, 6 October 2014.
  6. ^ a b c Boscoe Holder chronology at The Upper Room Art Gallery website.
  7. ^ Raymond Ramcharitar, "Boscoe, holder of one more award".
  8. ^ John Cowley, "Boscoe Holder" (obituary), The Guardian, 2 May 2007.
  9. ^ Geoffrey Holder biography at IMDB.
  10. ^ a b John Cowley, "London is the Place: Caribbean Music in the Context of Empire 1900-60", in Paul Oliver (ed.), Black Music In Britain: Essays on the Afro Asian Contribution to Popular Music, Milton Keynes: Open University Press, 1990, pp. 57–76.
  11. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Boscoe Holder biography at
  12. ^ Campbell's of London website.
  13. ^ Ray Funk, "British Pathe offers historic Carnival, pan and calypso", Guardian Media, 29 April 2014.
  14. ^ Aliyyah Eniath, "A Tribute To Boscoe Holder - Rare Glimpses Of His Life Through The Eyes Of His Beloved". Caribbean Belle, 2012.
  15. ^ "Discovering the Art of Boscoe Holder", Trinidad Express Newspapers, 15 October 2011.
  16. ^ "Boscoe Holder, The Life of the Late", Export Trinidad & Tobago, Express Newspapers, 31 July 2011.
  17. ^ Carol Matroo, "Friends and family paint pretty picture - Fond farewell to Boscoe Holder", The Trinidad Guardian, 27 April 2007.
  18. ^ "No funeral for Boscoe Holder", Newsday, 24 April 2007.
  19. ^ "Boscoe Holder Street is next to Barataria and is located in San Juan/Laventille, Trinidad and Tobago. Boscoe Holder Street has a length of 0.04 kilometres."
  20. ^ "Boscoe Holder, The Life of the Late", Trinidad Express Newspapers, 31 July 2011.
  21. ^ "2003 Honorary Graduands", St Augustine News, UWI, October 2003–March 2004, p. 24.

Further reading[edit]

  • Boscoe Holder by Geoffrey MacLean, introduction by Geoffrey Holder (Trinidad, 1994).

External links[edit]