Sterling Betancourt

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Sterling Betancourt
Sterling Betancourt at "I am London" exhibition.jpg
2016 "I am London" exhibition
Background information
Born (1930-03-30) 30 March 1930 (age 89)
OriginTrinidad, Trinidad and Tobago
Occupation(s)Pioneer, inventor, musician

Sterling Betancourt MBE, FRSA (born 30 March 1930) is a Trinidad-born pioneer, arranger and musician on the steelpan, a major figure in pioneering the Pan in Europe and the UK (1951).

In a career spanning over five decades, he has received numerous awards including his involvement in the origins of the Notting Hill Carnival in the 1960s.

Betancourt lives in London, England.

Early years[edit]

Betancourt (Trinidad pronunciation: Betancou) was born and raised in Laventille near Port of Spain, Trinidad. His father, Edwin, was a musician and a man of all trades, his mother Stella Bowen was a seamstress and a cleaner. At a very early age, Betancourt was involved with music with the Tambo Bambo family band and grew up experiencing with the Steel pan, becoming a member of the Tripoli Steel band and Cross Fire. He began his career in the 1930s and became a steelpan tuner and eventually the leader of Crossfire, a steelband from the St James area. He also played a large part in the development of steelpan in Trinidad and Europe.[1]

Move to Europe[edit]

Betancourt was chosen with 11 steel pan players to form the Trinidad All-Steel Percussion Orchestra (TASPO) and play in London at the 1951 Festival of Britain, in the same year he toured England and Europe with the band[2] and was the only member of TASPO to remain in England when the others returned to Trinidad on 12 November 1951.

Betancourt's calypso "Taspo's Story" features on the RASPO Rhythms CD by the Reading All Steel Percussion Orchestra (RASPO),[3] relates the tribulations encountered by the arrival of the first Steel Band in London: The Trinidad All Steel Percussion Orchestra (TASPO).

Betancourt, Russell Henderson and Mervyn Constantine, who later on was replaced by Max Cherrie, followed by his brother Ralph Cherrie, formed the first steelband in the UK and performed all over London as well as in radio shows, jazz clubs and the BBC.

In 1955 Betancourt was taught by Tony Kinsey to play the traps drums to form The Henderson combo.

Notting Hill Carnival[edit]

Henderson, Betancourt and Ralph Cherrie, initiated the multicultural Notting Hill children street festival organised by Rhaune Laslett in 1964. A festival that grew to become the biggest street event in Europe.

Other activities[edit]

Betancourt has also taken steelpan to many other countries throughout Europe and Asia, including Switzerland, Hong Kong, Bahrain, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Qatar, Morocco, Indonesia, Germany, Spain, France, Oman, Italy, Sicily, Sweden and Norway.[4][5]

A 1976 performance he gave in a hotel in Zurich, Switzerland, inspired some locals to form their own Swiss group, which they called Tropefieber ("Tropical Fever"), the first steel band in Zurich, followed then by many others.[6]

Nostalgia steel band[edit]

In 1985 Betancourt's steel band, "Nostalgia", was born and continued with him as the leader, player, and arranger until 2005.[4]


Honours and awards that Betancourt has received include: in 1993 Trinidad and Tobago’s Scarlet Ibis award. A University of East London Honorary Fellowship in 1996, a membership of the FRSA for his commitment in promoting steelpan culture throughout the United Kingdom, and pioneering steelpan projects in English schools[7] and in the same year, the New York Sunshine Award.

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".[8][9] In 2004 he received a Fellowship of the Royal Society, in 2006 a Pantrinbago Pioneer award, in 2010 Pan Jazz Life Time Achievement, 2011 Pan Trinbago Commemorative Plaque for Life Time Achievement.

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.[4][10][11]

In February 2018, Sterling Betancourt recorded his latest calypso "Brexit Bacchanal Story" with Dik Cadbury singer/guitar/bass guitar/violin and Tamla Batra steel pan and piano and Betancourt on steel drum and percussion.

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.
  • A biography by Bel Kais, London is the place for me, Artemis Publishers, 2014.


  1. ^ "From Bamboo Patch to Buckingham Palace with Sterling Betancourt – Vignettes of Pan History", When Steel Talks; republished from Pan, Fall 1985, Vol. 1, No. 1.
  2. ^ TASPO
  3. ^ "A second CD for RASPO – RASPO Rhythms", Culture Mix.
  4. ^ a b c "Sterling Betancourt M.B.E., F.R.S.A." My Panyard.
  5. ^ George Alleyne, "Pan's Sterling Betancourt", Newsday, 1 April 2009.
  6. ^ Shannon Dudley, Music from behind the Bridge: Steelband Aesthetics and Politics in Trinidad and Tobago, Oxford University Press, 2007, p. 251.
  7. ^ Nostalgia Steelband History.
  8. ^ "No. 56430". The London Gazette (Supplement). 31 December 2001. p. 14.
  9. ^ Terry Joseph, "MBE for pan pioneer Betancourt honoured by Queen", Pantrinbago, 31 December 2001.
  10. ^ "T&T nationals get awards in UK", Trinidad and Tobago Guardian, 7 October 2012.
  11. ^ Kais, Bel (2014). London Is the Place For Me. Artemis. ISBN 9781907785139.

External links[edit]