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Billy Overton’s Ministry in Pan
For almost 20 years, Maestro Billy Overton has made playing pan a central part of his ministry, playing in his church and other churches all over the Gulf South region of Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas and Florida.
He started out on trumpet but moved to pan to play in the US Navy Steel Band and never looked back.
After being ordained as a minister in 1997 in the Church of God in Christ, he decided to focus on pan in his church ministry.
He recorded an album that features him on a lead pan playing a set of classic gospel songs. When he retired from the Navy shortly thereafter, he became a full time gospel steelpan musician and minister.
Overton reached out to pastors of all denominations and found them very receptive to him performing at their church and the church members were amazed at both the instrument and its use in a religious context.
He would perform with backing tracks and occasionally with rhythm musicians in churches. He would sell his Faith of Steel albums. This ministry has taken him all over the South and onto local gospel TV and radio shows.
Based in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, he plays trumpet for one church on Sunday mornings and uses his pan at services he conducts in the evening.
Overton also started a music publishing and management company after he received a Music Business Scholarship from New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Foundation to study music publishing at Loyola University.
Now he actively works with independent artists in many genres and has a regular radio programme promoting independent music. Overton grew on a farm about 90 minutes drive west of New Orleans. No one in his family played music but Billy got interested in trumpet and started learning it and being part of school bands.
From high school, Overton went on to Southern University, which had a strong music programme, and he was playing jazz and rhythm and blues and being in the marching band.
But with his degree, he wanted to travel so he joined first the Air Force Band. It was while in the Navy Band stationed in New Orleans playing trumpet in their big band that he first heard the Navy Steel Band who practiced in the next room.
It was an overwhelming experience for Overton. “I wanted to play pan and went to ask but was told I couldn’t because you had to be a percussionist to join.”
Overton was not deterred.
He spent hours practicing for several months and when he auditioned the next time was allowed to join and he never looked back.
His desire to travel was sated as a member of the US Navy Steel Band. In the ten years that he was with them, he travelled the world, played at the Pentagon and at air shows with the Blue Angels.
“Performing with the US Navy Steel Band was not a job,” says Overton. “It was an adventure.
“I really enjoyed performing at exotic places like Africa and South America; it didn’t feel like a job. The most memorable performance was performing for General Colin Powell”s retirement.” After Overton joined two trombonists switched over to the steelband which led the leader to arrange charts for the Navy Steel Band to feature horns as well.
Overton also performed for a while with the Executive Steel Band, a side project of Navy Steel Band members in New Orleans His Faith in Steel Ministry has him playing pan at services every week.
For Overton, “music is a flight of stairs from Heaven to Earth.
It crosses cultures and genres. It goes around the world. It doesn’t have to be translated.
“The most important message anyone anywhere will ever hear is in ministry through music.”