The American steel band story is one of migration and the appropriation of the national instrument of Trinidad by and for the cultural dominance of America. Moreover, despite its humble beginnings the steel pan has slowly positioned itself to thrive in the United States. The following study parses out the development of steel pan in America into sections that include an analysis of early steel band influences within Cold War American popular music, the 1950s calypso craze, the New York Carnival scene, Pete Seeger and steel pan as American folk music, the United States Navy Steel Band, early examples of steel band success in academia, steel band's attempt to find a voice and identity within the American popular and commercial music landscape, several individual case studies, and current trends.
Despite its unique nature, the steel pan has experienced a fate similar to many other non-western folk instruments; it has been integrated, appropriated, and modified by American practitioners into an entirely new and musical genre, increasingly different in style and character from its Trinidadian roots. The present study further explores the social and artistic phenomenon of steel pan in America and its development over time. The development of steel pan in America is a serious art movement in both social identity and artistic development, and it is my aim to illustrate the motives that propel the scene. Accordingly, every attempt will be made to explore, locate, and provide a historical analysis of the first appearance of steel band music in the United States, drawing links between institutional locations (military bands, school and university programs, recordings/record labels, and more) and regional sites (Harlem, Brooklyn, Dekalb, Illinois) whenever possible. Other avenues of research considered include American steel band's historical links to conflicts with other Trinidadian musical genres (calypso and soca) and black diasporic, and (white) mainstream postwar cultural practices in the United States. Under discussion, too, is the global impact of the American steel band, the historical impact of American popular music on steel band music, cultural appropriation, transvaluation, and remade traditions such as the Brooklyn Carnival and J'ouvert tradition.
University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. May 2011. Major: Music. Advisor: Dr. Peter Mercer-Taylor. 1 computer file (PDF); v, 477 pages, appendices A-B.
Martin, Andrew Richard.
Pan-America: Calypso, exotica, and the development of steel pan in the United States.
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