Desperadoes Steel Orchestra

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Desperadoes Steel Orchestra
Despers 2016 Panorama.jpg
Background information
Also known as The Dead End, The Desperadoes, The Gay Desperadoes, The Coca Cola Gay Desperadoes, The WITCO Desperadoes
Origin Laventille, Trinidad
Genres Steelpan
Years active 1945–present

The Desperadoes Steel Orchestra, also called Despers, are a steelband from Laventille in Trinidad, formed in 1945.

Origins and evolution[edit]

The Desperadoes Steel Orchestra was formed in Laventille in 1945.[1] They were initially named The Dead End, a reference to the Dead End Kids films.[1] They became notorious for regular clases with other bands and the police.[1][2] In the early 1950s, Wilfred "Speaker" Harrison and Donald Steadman joined, bringing a more professional focus that saw the band sign a sponsorship deal with Coca Cola in 1962 with the band name changing to the Coca Cola Gay Desperadoes at the same time,[1] the name chosen from the movie Desperadoes starring Glenn Ford that was shown in Port of Spain at the time.[3]

Rudolph Charles, who had joined the band in 1958 from the Spike Jones steelband, was given the captaincy in 1961,[2] which lasted until his death in 1985.[1][4] Charles presided over a successful period for the group, and they placed third in the first Panorama comeptition in 1963.[1] In 1965 the band's sponsor changed to the West Indian Tobacco Company, and they became the WITCO Gay Desperadoes.[1][2] They won Panorama for the first time the following year, with a rendition of Mighty Sparrow's "Obeah Wedding".[1] Charles recruited a few members away from other steelbands along with arranger Beverly Griffith and transformed Desperadoes from a steelband into a steel orchestra.[citation needed] In later years he invited several pantuners such as Bertie Marshall to join.[2] They dropped 'Gay' from the name in the 1970s.[1] They went on to win Panorama on a total of eleven occasions.[1]

The orchestra has worldwide appearances and has performed at the Royal Albert Hall in 1972, Carnegie Hall in 1987,[4] and performed with the Opera singer Luciano Pavarotti in Barbados in 1996.[citation needed]

The late Raymond "Artie" Shaw was the first musician to conduct Desperadoes Steel Orchestra at their performance for Queen Elizabeth at the Royal Albert Hall in London, and the late, Insp. Anthony Prospect conducted their English tour in 1981. The late Dr. Pat Bishop conducted their performance at Carnegie Hall in NYC. Desperadoes have also toured some of Trinidad & Tobago's motherlands; such as Africa, India, China, England and Grenada. The band has qualified for the most Panorama finals, 49 of 53, was a finalist for 36 consecutive years 1976 through 2011, has the highest winning percentage (1) victory every 4.8 years, has won every entered competition, and has a total of 25 combined victories out of 69 various competitions, from 1965 to 2016.

As of May 2015 the band had 120 members.[5]


Despers also make an effort to educate their community in Laventille, and has hosted Pan Camps with up to 200 children participating. Besides playing steelpan, the program includes foreign language training, life skills and field trips.[6]



Despers have won the National Steelband Panorama competition of Trinidad and Tobago a total of eleven times in their history.[7] Their most recent win took place in 2016, where they won with a total of 285 points, placing First Citizens Supernovas in second place, who accumulated 284 points.

The orchestra always takes part in the 'Large Band' category, with a minimum of one hundred musicians.

Maximum players allowed in the 'Large Band' category.

Large 100 120
Year Song Arranger
1966 "Obeah Wedding" Beverly Griffith
1970 "Margie" Clive Bradley
1976 "Pan in Harmony" Clive Bradley
1977 "Crawford" Clive Bradley
1983 "Rebecca" Clive Bradley
1985 "Pan Night and Day" B. Griffith & R. Greenidge
1991 "Musical Volcano" Robert Greenidge
1994 "Fire Coming Down" Robert Greenidge
1999 "In my House" Clive Bradley
2000 "Picture on my Wall" Clive Bradley
2016 "Different Me" Carlton "Zanda" Alexander

Music Festival[edit]

Desperadoes have won the (Pan Is Beautiful) Steel Orchestra Music Festival of Trinidad and Tobago three times. They played the "Polovetsian Dances" by Borodin in 1986, the "Marche Slave" from Tchaikovsky in 1988 and the "Bartered Bride" by Smetana in 1992. Their classical renditions were all arranged and conducted by the late, Dr. Pat Bishop. Desperadoes have also won The Best Village Classical Competition for pan in 1965. They performed "The Marriage of Figaro", which was arranged By Mr. Beverly Griffith. In 1967 they won The Champ of Champs Classical Competition. Their rendition of "Palaestra" and "The Merry Wives of Windsor" were arranged and conducted by the late Raymond "Artie" Shaw. [8]


  • Carnival In Trinidad (1965), RCA Victor - as Coca Cola Gay Desperadoes Steel Orchestra
  • Triple Winners (1966), Recording Artists - as The West Indian Tobacco Gay Desperadoes Steel Orchestra
  • Caribbean Holiday (1966), Tropico/RCA - as Gay Desperadoes Steel Orchestra
  • Steelband Fiesta (1967), Tropico - as The West Indian Tobacco Gay Desperadoes Steel Orchestra
  • Calypso Rock (1971), Despers Productions
  • Classics With the Giants (197?), Bestway - as Gay Desperadoes Steel Orchestra, split with Solo Harmonites Steel Orchestra
  • Desperadoes (1981), Charisma - as Desperadoes
  • The Magical Music Of Despers (1991), Charlie's - as WITCO Gay Desperados
  • The Jammer (1991)
  • Live at Holder's, Barbados (1998)
  • Steel in the Classics (1999), Rituals Music
  • The Best Of Despers (1977), Hildrina/Charlie's


  • Voices from the Hills: Despers & Laventille - The steelband and its effects on poverty, stigma & violence in a community, by Ancil Anthony Neil, 1987.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Thompson, Dave (2002) Reggae & Caribbean Music, Backbeat Books, ISBN 0-87930-655-6, pp. 96–97
  2. ^ a b c d Dudley, Shannon (2007) Music From Behind the Bridge: Steelband Aesthetics and Politics in Trinidad and Tobago, Oxford University Press, ISBN 9780199724376, p. 73
  3. ^ Campbell, John (2013) "From Desperadoes to Despers to Witco", Trinidad Express, 2 February 2013. Retrieved 25 April 2016
  4. ^ a b Smith, Angela (2012) Steel Drums and Steelbands: a History, Scarecrow Press, ISBN 978-0810883420, pp. 170–172
  5. ^ Dreisinger, Baz (2015) "Trinidad's Steelpan Players Turn Trash Into Something Beautiful", NPR, 23 May 2015. Retrieved 25 April 2016
  6. ^ Pancamp Archived June 30, 2008, at the Wayback Machine.
  7. ^ Panorama Archived June 30, 2008, at the Wayback Machine.
  8. ^ Music Festival Archived June 30, 2008, at the Wayback Machine.

Further reading[edit]

  • Franklin, Ian Desperadoes - Rudolph Charles Era and Beyond" by Ian Franklin
  • Franklin, Ian 400 Questions & Answers on Pan from 1960 to Present

External links[edit]