Neville Jules, steel band icon, to be honored

Neville Jules.
Photo by Gerald Carter

One of the revered and legendary names of steel band history in Trinidad and Tobago, Neville Jules, the former longtime leader of the popular Trinidad All Stars band, will be honored by the Trinidad & Tobago Folk Arts Institute for his singular devotion to and impact upon steel band culture, at a gala celebration on Sunday evening, April 26 at Brooklyn’s Tropical Paradise Ballroom.

At the dinner event which begins at 6:00 p.m., Jules will be formally accorded the Folk Arts Institute’s foremost recognition and is expected to be the recipient of several other awards and commendations.

“We have previously cited Mr. Jules,” said Les Slater, chairman of the Folk Arts Institute, “most notably in our Legends of Pan presentation some years ago when he was among our select group of steel band luminaries. But the span of his years of meaningful involvement and influence makes this stand-alone tribute most appropriate at this time.”

Jules was present practically at the dawn of the period of experimentation in the early 1940s that saw the steel band come to fruition. His leadership of Trinidad All Stars, from the post-WWII period and through the 19505 and 60s added a number of memorable chapters to steel band lore in Trinidad and Tobago. Directly responsible for the band’s musical output, Jules made history when he led the way in reconfiguring a number of classical compositions to fit the calypso genre – a trend that would be soon followed not only by other steel bands but the country’s leading dance orchestras as well. That path carved by Jules led to the so-called “bomb” tunes played by steel bands on Carnival day – a practice that endures to the current time. Also the tuner of the band’s instruments for many years, Jules was responsible for the tradition that came to be associated with Trinidad All Stars of a distinctive, readily identifiable bass sound. These and other features made Jules a titanic figure in the leadership ranks of the steel band world.

Jules relocated to New York in 1972, ending his marathon run as the All Stars leader. His tremendous expertise in the art form would soon benefit school-age youngsters in Brooklyn, after he was engaged as a steel band music instructor for certain public schools in the borough. He later was instrumental in setting up a Trinidad All Stars outfit in Brooklyn that made his abilities accessible to an even broader base of steel band music enthusiasts, including both adults and children. The connection long established between Jules and his former band in Port of Spain has remained intact and, remarkably, even into his eighties, he was furnishing music that Trinidad All Stars performed.

The April 26 tribute to Jules is the latest of a number of presentations the Folk Arts Institute has done, since 1991, in the process of highlighting Trinidad and Tobago’s rich folk culture traditions. The organization’s in-depth focus on those traditions has been enhanced with various symposia and other forums conducted mostly in conjunction with Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn. Previous recipients of the organization’s premier award that will be presented to Jules, the Citation of Merit, have included Beryl McBurnie, Emory Cook, Bob Gittens, Ellie Mannette, Dr. J.D. Elder, Joey Lewis, Daphne Weekes, Julia Edwards, Stephen Lee Heung, Earl Lovelace, Leroy Clarke, Freddie Kissoon, Cheryl Byron, Winsford Devine, Lord Kitchener, Mighty Sparrow and Shadow.

Tropical Paradise Ballroom is located at 1367 Utica Ave., Brooklyn.

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