Ken “Professor” Philmore took pan by storm.
The self-taught pannist fell in love with the sound of the national instrument when he was just seven-years-old after discovering it during a J’ouvert competition. He was mesmerised by the instrument.
Philmore eventually got a steel pan from his cousins and started practicing for hours a day at his family’s San Fernando home. The neighbours, however, began to complain about the noise and because of the stigma associated with panmen in those days, Philmore’s father threw the pan in a nearby canal.
Philmore went into the canal, recovered the pan and continued teaching himself the instrument.
It was during one of those sessions that Steve Achaiba heard Philmore playing the pan and begged his father to allow him to come down to the panyard of the Hatters Steel Orchestra. That was how Philmore began his journey with pan, his sister Gail said in a telephone interview yesterday.
Philmore eventually became an arranger, composer and a performing artiste in pan.
He passed away yesterday at the San Fernando General Hospital where he had been warded at the intensive care unit (ICU) following a vehicular accident on Republic Day (September 24).
“He was a maestro and magician with the pan and he will be missed,” Gail said.
She described her brother as a “lovable, friendly and kind” man who comfortable speaking to anyone, and treated all with respect.
Philmore is known for his 1990 arrangement of Pan By Storm for Fonclaire Steel Orchestra.
Gail said her brother’s dream was to see pan being played all over the world.
As the arranger for New York’s Sonatas Steel Orchestra he led that band to six New York Steelband Panorama titles in the 1980s. He last worked with Sonatas in 2003, returning to New York as the arranger for Harmony Steel Orchestra in 2007.
In T&T, he led the Laventille Sound Specialists of Laventille to victories in the 2007 and 2008 Panorama medium-band category.
Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley said Philmore established himself as “one of the premiere names in pan” and an “incomparable talent.
“Mr Philmore, a beloved son of south Trinidad, began honing his skills on the national instrument at a very early age and went on to establish himself as one of the premiere names in pan. The self-taught musician demonstrated a continuous dedication to his craft which solidified him as an incomparable talent,” Rowley said.
Rowley said as the arranger for Fonclaire, Philmore “was responsible for some of the most memorable Panorama music ever composed.
“He also found success on the international stage with performances at Carnegie Hall in New York, The Royal Albert Hall in London and the Apollo Theatre in Harlem. He had the opportunity to perform alongside great entertainers such as our local Lord Kitchener and with several international acts,” Rowley said
“It is with profound sadness that I extend condolences to his family, friends and colleagues on behalf of the Government of T&T. Let us continue to look at his life as a shining example of passion for excellence and national service.”
Communications Minister Stuart Young said Philmore made an “invaluable contribution to the musical landscape of T&T.”
He said Philmore is widely acknowledged as pan royalty in T&T and was arguably “one of the top steelpan soloists in the world.
“Through his music he did this country proud wherever he played, bringing recognition not only to our country but to our beloved national instrument, the steelpan. He showed us that through dedication and love for the art form, it was possible to become one of the best,” said Young.
Young said he believes Philmore’s work with the steelpan fraternity will continue to define the way the national instrument is played and heard.
Finance Minister Colm Imbert described Philmore as a “pan genius.
“Rest in peace, Professor Philmore. A tragic loss. One of the greatest pannists that has emerged in T&T. A pan genius. An artiste par extraordinaire. A world-famous internationally renowned steelband icon. I am sure you have angels dancing already,” Imbert tweeted.
Member of Parliament for San Fernando East Randall Mitchell said Philmore “brought a level of excellence to the artform that can never be duplicated.
“As a child, one name I have always associated with steelpan in San Fernando and throughout the nation is Ken “Professor” Philmore. He has left an indelible mark on the steelband community and our national culture,” Mitchell said.
Philmore’s death was mourned throughout the region.
The Grenada Steel Band Association (GSBA) said we owe it to Philmore to ensure that his legacy lives on.
“The footprints ‘Professor’ left will always be recorded in our history, they will always form part of the legacy and times of the global steel pan movement and for this, we are eternally grateful,” the GSBA stated.
“Ken touched the lives of many with his enthusiasm for music, his passion for pan and his excitement for the stage. Many of our young arrangers in Grenada have embraced him as a role model for all the positive attributes that he imparted.”
Samuel Roberts, a radio host, and pan player in Antigua and Barbuda, said Philmore “played with a passion that translated to the audience.”
Philmore used to visit Antigua and Barbuda for the annual Gemonites Moods of Pan Festival.
“The professor was a singular talent, I’m sure that he will be missed not just in T&T but Antigua and Barbuda where he did work as well,” Roberts said.