The lost, melodious history of a Cold War drumbeat that harmonized Caribbean steel with the best of America
"Maybe you won't like steel band. It's
possible. But it's been said that the
Pied Piper had a steel band helping
him on his famous visit to Hamelin."
When the US Navy distributed this
press release, anxieties and tensions of
the impending Cold War felt palpable.
As President Eisenhower cast his
gaze towards Russia, the American
people cast their ears to the Atlantic south, infatuated with the
international currents of Caribbean music. Today, steelbands have
become a global phenomenon; yet, in 1957 the exotic sound and
the unique image of the US Navy Steel Band was one-of-a-kind.
Could calypso doom rock ‘n' roll? Band founder Admiral Daniel V.
Gallery thought so and envisioned his steelband knocking "rock 'n'
roll and Elvis Presley into the ash can."
From 1957 until their disbandment in 1999, the US Navy
Steel Band performed over 20,000 concerts worldwide. In 1973,
the band officially moved headquarters from Puerto Rico to New
Orleans and found the city and annual Mardi Gras tradition an apt
musical and cultural fit. The band brought a significant piece of
Caribbean artistic capital—calypso and steelband music—to the
American mainstream. Its impact on the growth and development
of steelpan music in America is enormous.
Steelpan Ambassadors uncovers the lost history of the US
Navy Steel Band and provides an in-depth study of its role in the
development of the US military's public relations, its promotion
of goodwill, its recruitment efforts after the Korean and Vietnam
Wars, its musical and technological innovations, and its percussive
propulsion of the American fascination with Latin and Caribbean
music over the past century.
Andrew R. Martin, Minneapolis, Minnesota, is professor of
music at Inver Hills College. His research explores the global
spread of steelpan and steelbands, American music, and popular
and folk music and musicians since the Cold War. Since 2011,
Martin has written a semiregular newspaper column, "Pan
Worldwide," for the Trinidad Guardian.
272 pages (approx.), 6 x 9 inches, 19 b&w illustrations, 3 tables, bibliography, index