When Sidney Poitier met the Trinidad and Tobago National Steelband in 1964

by Clevil James

In Photo from left – Steve Regis, Elton “Smokey” John, Herman Colins, Conrad Hunte, unknown, unknown, Sidney Portier, Hugh Borde, unknown,

In 1964, The Trinidad and Tobago National Steelband performed at the Moral Re-Armament Conference at Mackinac Island, Michigan.

Maybe it was serendipity that caused Bahamian born American actor Sidney Poitier (1927-2022) to be present at one of the band’s performances while he was visiting his daughter, who was attending the conference.

He was so overwhelmed with the music that he insisted on meeting the players. As can be seen in the photo, the meeting brought great joy to Poitier (with pan sticks in hand) and all the musicians.

Barbadian Cricketer, Conrad Hunte (fourth from left in the photo), was the one responsible for getting T&T Prime Minister Dr. Eric Williams (1911-1981) to send the band to the conference. Steve Regis, captain of the then Sundowners, was the Manager/Player of the national orchestra.

The Trinidad and Tobago National Steelband, at that time, consisted primarily of one member from each prominent steel band in the country.

The national steel band included members such as Steve Regis, Alexis, Emmanuel “Cobo Jack” Riley, Hugh Borde, Bobby Mohammed, Junior Pouchet, George “Sonny” Goddard, Vincent Hernandez, and others. The mixing of members into a national orchestra was one of Dr. Williams’ attempts to calm the animosity and vicious clashes between rival steel bands and gangs in the country. This steel band rivalry is splendidly documented in D’Warlord Lord Blakie’s (1932-2005) 1953/54 calypso “Steelband Clash”.

The Moral Re-Armament (MRA) was an international moral and spiritual movement started in 1938 by American minister Frank Buchman as a counteraction to the military re-armament that was sweeping across Europe just before the beginning of WWII. The movement had Christian roots, but it eventually changed into an international movement of people of “all faiths and backgrounds”. In 2021, the movement was renamed Initiatives of Change, with the aim of “building trust across the world’s divides”.

After the Michigan Conference, the band went on to tour Albuquerque, New Mexico, St. Louis, Missouri, Wheeling, West Virginia, Louisville, Kentucky, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, and Trinidad, Colorado, before returning to Trinidad & Tobago, WI.