Sterling Betancourt MBE FRSA
Sterling Betancourt was born 1 March 1930 in Laventille, Trinidad.
In his early years, he was a member of one of the local Laventille Tamboo Bamboo bands until he became a tenor pan player in Tripoli steelband. He later progressed to become a band member and the tuner for Crossfire, a steelband he was more notably associated to during the 1940s.
His skills on the pans earned him selection for TASPO. This tour became a defining point in his career as he decided to remain in England with his pan and promote this new found musical art form.
In 1952, Sterling Betancourt joined forces with a fellow Trinidadian musician, pianist Russell Henderson, to record some of Henderson’s piano music.
Later the Russ Henderson Steel Band was formed along with Mervyn Constantine. Brothers Ralph and Max Cherrie joined the band replacing Mervyn who left for personal reasons. By the mid 1960s the band performed as a steelband and a jazz band at various venues throughout London.
A defining point for the band came in 1964 when the band was invited to play at the opening of a Children’s Carnival in Notting Hill. The invite came from Rhaune Laslette, a Notting Hill resident and local social worker, who was organising the event.
In keeping up with the tradition of the Trinidad carnival at that time, the steelband began an impromptu march through the streets, enticing some of the onlookers to take part in the procession. This led to the start of the Notting Hill Carnival in 1965 with steelband music as the music of choice.
Sterling Betancourt is also noted for being one of the founders of the Nostalgia Steelband. Again in keeping with tradition, this band was a pan around the neck steelband.
In 1995, in keeping up with his pioneering spirit, Betancourt entered Nostalgia into the Notting Hill Panorama competition for conventional steelbands. It was a testament to his cunning as Nostalgia was not placed last, but did meet with some opposition from the other bands.
Betancourt has taken Pan to many countries throughout Europe and Asia and as recognition for his contribution he was awarded Trinidad and Tobago’s Scarlet Ibis award, a University of East London Fellowship, an MBE (Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) and made a member of FRSA for his commitment in promoting steelpan culture throughout the United Kingdom, and pioneering steelpan projects in English schools.