Birth of The Southern Marines Steel Band
1946 to 1996

By Leslie C Lewis (1996)
A 50th Year Commemorative pamphlet
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  Front cover of A 50th Year Commemorative Pamphlet

   In commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of the founding of the Southern Marines Steelband Foundation steelband in 1946, and to emphasise the effort in contribution made to the village of Marabella by those associated with this steelband; in 1996 a pamphlet was produced for local distribution to mark this occasion.

Birth of The Southern Marines Steel Band - 1946 to 1996, written by Leslie Lewis, was funded as an educational project by the IEL for their Nation Builders Series projects.

IEC Nation Builders Series
Jordan's Print
Tel: +(868) 656 5275

   Edited and presented here as part of The Histories reference data base for The Steelbands (Pan) of Trinidad and Tobago Web site.

Square brackets [x] delineate and number the end of each page for reference purposes.


The Southern Marines Steelband 1960's

The Southerm Marines
circa 1960's


Pioneers in the steel band movement deserve recognition for the contributions they made to creating the national musical instrument out of steel drums under the adverse societal conditions they endured in the process.

This paper salutes the two females who were the pioneers of the Southern Marines Steel Band of Marabella in Trinidad, whose persistence and dedication created the community band which survived half century of existence and continues to provide a focus of activity for the residents of Marabella, in addition to uplifting the status of the village by their successes in national events.

To the Lyons family, and the Green family, the citizens of Marabella "Salute You" and offer their public gratitude for your efforts.


Fifty Years Of Existence


There is a heightened sensitivity about celebrations in our society today as a result of new and evolving political and social paradigm. In effect, at this period of national development in the twin island country of Trinidad and Tobago, arising out of the democratic elections recently concluded, a religious group was granted a national holiday to celebrate their faith and beliefs as freely as other ethnic and cultural groups in the society, who have enjoyed the privilege over the years. As an enactment of government policy, other groups in our society which comprise a diverse ethnic and cultural mix, are becoming sensitive to their ethnic origins and cultural differences as a result of social and economic forces operating in the society, and it is likely that other groups will in the future seek formal national recognition to celebrate their existence or some aspect of their lives that identifies with their cultural or ethnic differences, using these precedents to support their claim for equal treatment.


As an observation, based on events being enacted in other parts of the world and involving the forces of the United Nations, the current trend in this society of identifying with cultural and ethnic origins, and practising and promoting the idea of recognising these differences in an independent country of diverse cultures, hardly seen conductive to building a united society, which is the stated intention of the national leadership of all governments of the country, since it obtained independence from the British Colonialists.


It was during the rule of this country by the British Colonialists, some half century ago, that the group of young men in the then small community of Marabella became imbued with the idea and eventually formed the steel band [now] named The Southern Marines. Looking back in time, this group of young men are to [2] be identified as the pioneers of the current band carrying the same name over the period, the forties to the nineties, with one short period when the same players tried a name change for the band, but eventually returned to their original name after the experiment. The emergence of the steel band as a feature of our indigenous culture, and the steel pan as our national instrument, has placed great significance to the pioneering efforts of the group of young men in the Marabella community, as it did for many others who dared to become involved in playing the steel pan, and actually forming a band, in those days when the society was less receptive to the idea of developing an indigenous culture, and did not perceive steel bands and steel pan players to be an acceptable social activity, or pursuit for normal good children.


The common perception of the people who played the steel pan and became members of steel bands as the lay-abouts and no-goods of the society, was a stigma that had to be endured by all who took an active role in the steel band groups that were being formed in many communities throughout the country, during the early forties.


Historically, the world war was still being fought and the demand for steel for the war effort was very high, which meant accessibility to steel drums for making the steel pan was difficult, and one of the sources of obtaining the steel drums was the oil industry.

This fact is mentioned to record one of the agencies that contributed indirectly to the development of the steel band, and no doubt would have helped to make the formation of the steel band in Marabella, which is in close proximity to Pointe-a-Pierre, less difficult than some bands in communities distant from the oil fields.

The name of the band was undoubtedly influenced by the presence of the American soldiers in the country at the time, and the films that were popular in the local cinemas. [3]


Another factor of influence in the formation of steel bands during the period of the forties was the socio-economic state of the society in which Agriculture was an income earner for the national economy and large families were common place in keeping with the idea of working the land. However, the drift away from the land had begun and the society found itself with a large number of young men searching for opportunities to become employed. The society enjoyed the benefit of the radio and radiogram as instruments of Technology.

Entertainment was provided through the cinema screens, and dancing was one of the popular activities in which the young men and women participated.


As a community close to the then town at San Fernando, it was a common occurrence for young men to journey into the town to go the cinema, and to walk back home after the show late at night without fear of being attacked by their fellowmen. There were no such security appendages on houses, such as burglar proofing, or security lighting, in Marabella, in which most of the houses were constructed along the main winding road leading to Pointe-a-Pierre and beyond.

The train line leading from San Fernando traversing the main road of Marabella provided a clear path along its route of about twenty feet, and the adjoining lands close to the main road was mainly cultivated with cane and kitchen garden type crops. In these general surroundings a few houses were constructed, and were homes for families consisting of several children on the Western side of the main road. It was from this group of families the Genesis of the steel band known as The Southern Marines emerged.


The fascination of learning to play the steel pan, and actually to play popular tunes, was so great, that even the social stigma levied at pan players was insufficient to deter participation by the youth in the community, since they all were known to each [4] other and by each others parents.

The fact that they were the product of the average working class families who did not experience the level of social activity in which membership in a steel band would have denigrated their social standing, relieved the social community pressure and stigma to allow the participating young men to acquire the skill to make the pans and tune them to be musical instruments.

The open space of the train line reserve and the space occasioned by the garden area, allowed for the players to practice and acquire the skill and proficiency of playing the pan, which was a comparatively noisy activity, without causing a nuisance of intolerable level in the community. The activity also provided an interest factor for the vibrant youth who did not have many options for constructive group activity in the community.


By the time the interest in playing the pan became strong enough to start some positive action among the young men in the Lyons and Green families, steel bands were already formed in the city and towns in the country.

The Lyons family comprised five boys and one girl, and the neighbours who were the Green[s] had a family of five boys and two girls, roughly around the same age group and as was the norm, the senior members of the family were the role models for the junior members, so that once the idea of playing the pan got the approval of the seniors, support and participation by the junior members became almost automatic.

Efforts were made to obtain oil drums from the nearby refinery at Pointe-a-Pierre and based on what was taking place in the cities and towns, efforts at making pans by cutting the oil drums and knocking the disc section outwards, then dividing it in three and four sections were commenced.


Milton Lyons recalls his efforts at tuning a pan as an experiment based on work of mouth information of what was happening in other areas. [5]

As more drums became available and techniques developed in cutting the drum and forming different notes, more of the youngsters were able to become involved both in the process of making the pans and learning to play the simple tunes of "Mary had a little lamb" and "Allan Ladd this gun for hire". Other nameless rhythms which made pleasant sounds were evolved using the three and four notes in various combinations, as well as following the leads of the established bands in trying to play the repertoire they had developed.


As the number of pans and players increased, and news of bands being formed in other areas spread among the players, the idea of forming a band was suggested by the elder brother, John of the Lyons, at a meeting of the group of young men in the yard of the Lyons home. The Greens and Lyons families found favour with the idea which agreed by all present and the suggestions for a name of the band ensured. Many names were bandied about and Lennard Lyons suggested the band be called "The Marines". After sounding it for effect the name was agreed and Harold Lyons took on the role of captain of the band. Thus The Marines Steel Band came into existence in the year 1946.


As captain of the band, Harold Lyons had the task of moulding the players into a semblance of order and discipline, in order to get them to practice and play together as a band.

The idea of arrangement was also a very experimental exercise, as was the discipline of stopping the band together as professional musicians had to. The repertoire of the band, after many long hours of practice, increased, and each member had to learn and memorise the notes to be played on their pan for each new tune rhythm they had to play. As players became more confident and proficient, the band reached the stage of development such that they could manage the playing of a variety of tunes and beats to be compared to a normal wind and string band.

The Southern Marines Steelband circa late 1940sThe Marines circa late 1940's

[This is an important photograph in terms of the history of the development of the Steel Drum instrument. If it is of the late 1940’s as stated - which is being investigated - and can be dated 1946/47? it shows some important facts in that within a year of “Spree” Simon’s noted 1946 carnival appearance, a 13 note sunken ‘tenor’ had already arrived down in the south of the island; together with a (probably more common) 4 note bass???? pan. Also note some bugle players. These steel drums are again probably the work of Milton Lyons. Dating this picture is important, as it shows elements not quite expected until some time later than indicated. JGdeB]


Eventually, as a band they were invited to play a "Rounders Match" in Forres Park in the Claxton Bay area. There, after other [6] engagements followed for the band to play at athletic meetings at various locations. Entering into band competitions was a reflection of the confidence and the competence the band achieved under their captain Harold Lyons during his stewardship which lasted into the late fifties when the captaincy was passed on to his brother Milton Lyons. By this time the name was changed during the captaincy of Harold Lyons to The Southern Marines.

This change to Southern Marines was triggered by the emergence of a band some where in the North of Trinidad called The Marines. A discussion with members of the same group of Greens and Lyons and others who joined the band agreed to add "Southern" to the "Marines". The band under both captains participated with a fair degree of success in competitions staged at the national level. Performance[s] [were given] free.


The pinnacle of achievement of the band over the years was reached when the band, competing with the big name bands of the North and other areas in the music festival, was able to amass the most number of points in the 1960 preliminaries, and [7] one of their members Milton Lyons won the Solo Pan Final in the Queens Hall in Port-of-Spain, coming in first in the field of the six best solo pan players from all the steel bands in the country. The band had come of age, and during the tenure of captain Milton Lyons as well as Harold Lyons, appeared in winners row, making the people of Marabella proud.


The leadership was passed on by Milton Lyons to the present leader Michael Joseph who has kept up the level of performance of the band, keeping them frequently in the winning row among the many bands that have come and gone over the half century of existence.

Tribute must be paid to the Greens and Lyons boys - Malcome, Ulrick, Billy, Hollis and Lloyd Green and John, Harold, Lennard, Milton and Fitzroy Lyons for their dedication and commitment, as well as, to the current leader Michael Joseph for keeping the band alive for fifty years and making Marabella one of the distinguished villages that produced national champions in the process of providing many years of joyful sound on the national instrument.


We will also give credit to other persons who were present and participated in the early days of formation for their pioneering efforts, and the names that come to mind are those of Kelvin Lewis, Egbert Crosby, Sonny Jadoo and the Chancellor Brothers.

Other contributors whose support was significant to the sustenance of the band are identified as Commisiong, the well known Tin Smith; Bertrand Kellman, Jack Ramatoursingh, Alim Amin, Allen Campbell, Owen Horsford, Steve Marcano, Naaman Holloway, Conrad Jarvis, Tyrel Marcelle, Clyde James, Douglas Gibson, Lennox Lewis, as individuals and corporate citizens such as National Gas Company and Petrotrin are noted contributors.

Special mention is given to the services received from the following distinguished citizens; Norbert Brown, Everton Smith and Mr Griffith, whose contributors in the area of musical [8] arrangement provided the foundation for the many successes achieved by the band over the years.

Clyde Rivers and Nelson Tam Thomas also deserve a special mention for their services to the band.


It is worth noting as a feature of the development of the band that the band performed at functions in the early days for free, and the function organisers usually covered the transportation cost, provided refreshment for the players, and occasionally gave the band a token subscription.

Any cost for obtaining and tuning the pans did not arise in the early years of the bands existence as these tasks were performed by the Lyons boys - Lennard and Milton. However, in later years cost factors for the maintenance of the band became of significance and funds had to be raised to cover these costs.

One firm called "National Auto" owned by Ashton Biard, ably supported the other fund raising initiatives such as excursions and dances, by giving the band jerseys, pan racks, refreshments and transportation on occasions. Current overheads to be met by the band comprise rent rates, electricity, maintenance and replacement of instruments which have now become major cost items of a recurrent nature.

It is now evident that the band have to receive more direct support from citizens in the community, from a consideration of-the cost of the pans, which have become the national musical instrument and the changes that have taken place in the society since the Genesis of the band.


Having mentioned that the senior members in the family were leaders of the juniors, the level of discipline in the band was high as the element of home discipline was there to form the foundation. Current trends in the society will suggest that the present leader will have to expend more energy to achieve the required level of discipline in order to keep the band on tract. A more formal business type organisation has to exist at this time [9] for the band to meet the requirements of today's society.

Practice sessions have to be scheduled and other activities of the band have to be carefully planned in order for its survival and growth. Without sponsorship, the band has to foot the bill to make their pan stands and maintain them.

The discipline, competence and performance was significant to the band winning the Panorama Finals at Naparima in 1963 (South Panorama).


The Businessmen Association of Marabella have in recent years, become contributors to the efforts of The Southern Marines to survive and grow, and the new management of the band in recognising their support take the opportunity of their fiftieth anniversary to express the thanks of the organisation to the Association and the many other persons whose names or organisations are not listed in this paper for their contributions to the development and growth of the band over the past fifty years.

It is evident that changes have taken place in the society since the band came into existence and the mention of a new management is an indication of one of the evolving changes impacting on the history of the band, which in the current state of national development has to function with a management structure similar to the business community.


The trophies in the possession of The Southern Marines steelband at this time are tangible sign posts of the successes achieved by the band over the years of its existence in competitions with other steel bands in the country, but the more significant contribution of the band to the community of Marabella in particular, and by extension the wider national community, is not identified by trophies, since it has to do with the development of people, the protection and security of our society and the provision of a constructive activity in which the youths of the community could participate. [10]

Taken in the context of the societal changes that have taken place over the years, and the current economic and social conditions in the society, the existence and contribution of the band could be recognised as significant to the maintenance and existence of a stable and lawful community in the society of Trinidad and Tobago.

The benefits to the nation of steel band in providing alternative constructive community activities for the youths and unemployed in our society cannot be over stated, and the average citizen, and members of the business community, must become more sensitive and understanding, as well as, supportive to the efforts of the steel band, as the nation's effort to maintain a stable society, become subjected to increasing pressures form external and internal forces unleashed on this country through International Drug Trafficking and Criminal Activities.


Goals and objectives of The Southern Marines steelband at this time have extended beyond the bounds of being champions of playing the national musical instrument, and are now set as the achievement of empowerment of the youths and under-employed in the society through education, training, development of their artistic and cultural talents, and providing them with opportunity to acquire practical trade skills and the ability to read and write music in order to become proficient musicians.

A critical step to the achievement of these desirable goals is the construction of a Pan Theatre on the land now occupied by the band, and this project requires the support of the entire community, as well as, the government agencies, especially for the reasons previously indicated in this paper.


In view of liberalisation of the economy of the country and the potential opportunities that may come about, the urgency for our citizens to become more empowered for survival has moved to be a priority in the national development agenda. [11]

The efforts by The Southern Marines band would be enhanced by community donations of educational aids such as for instance, visual aid equipment, library facilities, book shelves, cupboards and of course books. Modern equipment such as video and computer systems are significant in training the youths of our society for survival in the age of technology in which they will have to function, so we can see there is scope for community participation at every level in pursuing the stated goals.


As a nation, we must recognise the value of our indigenous efforts and understand that while the beginning of the band was conceived in humble surroundings, it played its part in promoting the steel pan to achieve the status of the only musical instrument to be invented in the twentieth century and to become the national musical instrument.

The status of the inventors and musicians must be upgraded to take their place on the world stage, and the goals of The Southern Marines steelband as outlined in this paper, is one of the means of uplifting the status of the Steel Band Movement as a whole to a higher plane.

Undoubtedly, the community of Marabella and all those who have helped and contributed in any way to its survival over the period of fifty years, would wish the band every success in their future endeavours and in conveying these sentiments to the new management and members of the band.

The writer notes a cultural change that would make up [for] the short comings of this paper in addressing the achievement of the band over the next fifty years, and that is the keeping of records. He also adds his congratulations to the band on its phenomenal achievement of half century of community service.



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  © 1996 Leslie C Lewis: Birth of The Southern Marines Steel Band - 1946 to 1996
[This reference is a matter of research for these pages]

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The Steelbands (Pan) of Trinidad & Tobago

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Historic Update: 03 December 1998; Last Update: 24 June 2014 07:00:00 TT
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