Steelpan AmbassadorsThe US Navy Steel Band, 1957-1999

Steelpan AmbassadorsThe US Navy Steel Band, 1957-1999

Andrew R. Martin

Print publication date: 2019

ISBN: 9781496812407

Publisher: University Press of Mississippi


“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 toward Russia, the American people cast their ears to the Atlantic South, infatuated with the international currents of Caribbean music. Today, steel bands 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. 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. This book 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.