Sterling Betancourt

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Sterling Betancourt MBE, FRSA (born 1 March 1930) is a Trinidad-born pioneer, inventor and musician on the steelpan, who now lives in London, England, where he has been vitally involved in building up Notting Hill Carnival.[1]


Betancourt was born and raised in Laventille near Port of Spain, Trinidad. He was a steelpan tuner and a member of the steelband Crossfire. He began his career in the 1930s, and became a steelpan tuner and eventually leader of Crossfire, a steelband from the St James area. He played a large part in the development of steelpan in Trinidad,[2]

Move to Europe[edit]

Selected as a member of TASPO (Trinidad All-Steel Percussion Orchestra) to go to the Festival of Britain in 1951, Betancourt toured England and Europe with the band that year.[3] He was the only musician of TASPO - whose members included Ellie Mannette and Winston "Spree" Simon - to remain on in England when the others returned to Trinidad on 12 December 1951. Together with Russell Henderson and Ralph Cherrie[4] (later replaced by Mervyn Constantine), Betancourt formed the first steelband combo in the UK and performed all over London as well as in radio shows, jazz clubs and the BBC. He was one of the founders of the "pan-round-the-neck" steelband Nostalgia.[5]

Betancourt has also taken steelpan to many other countries throughout Europe and Asia, including Switzerland, Hong Kong, Bahrain, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Qatar, Casablanca, Indonesia, Germany, Spain, France, Oman, Italy, Sicily, Sweden and Norway.[6][5] A 1976 performance he gave in a hotel in Switzerland inspired some locals to form their own Swiss group, which they called Tropefieber ("Tropical Fire").[7]

Betancourt's calypso "Taspo's Story" features on the RASPO Rhythms CD by the Reading All Steel Percussion Orchestra (RASPO).[8]


Honours and awards that Betancourt has received include Trinidad and Tobago’s Scarlet Ibis award, a University of East London Honorary Fellowship in 1996, and membership of the FRSA for his commitment in promoting steelpan culture throughout the United Kingdom, and pioneering steelpan projects in English schools.[9]

He was appointed as a Member of The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire in the New Year Honours 2002 "for services to the steel band movement".[10][11]

In 2012, on the occasion of the Trinidad and Tobago Independence Jubilee celebrations, he was a recipient of one of the Arts awards recognising citizens who made a positive contribution to the promotion and development of Trinidad and Tobago in the United Kingdom during the past 50 years, given at a gala dinner in London hosted by High Commissioner Garvin Nicholas.[12][13][5]

Further reading[edit]

  • Felix I. R. Blake: The Trinidad and Tobago Steel Pan: History and Evolution, 1995. ISBN 0-9525528-0-9
  • Stephen Stuempfle, The Steelband Movement: The Forging of a National Art in Trinidad and Tobago (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1995).
  • Dr. Lionel McCalman, Carnival Club History.


External links[edit]