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Musician Elliot Anthony ‘‘Ellie’’ Mannette (November 5, 1927 – August 29, 2018), a principal innovator and designer of the steel drum as a musical instrument, was born in the village of Sans Souci, Trinidad.

As teenagers in the 1940s, Mannette and his friend Winston ‘‘Spree’’ Simon originated the modern steel drum band sound. Discarded barrels were abundant in oil-rich Trinidad, and Mannette experimented with hammering bumps in the steel bottom or ‘‘pan’’ of an upsidedown 55-gallon oil drum. Each raised section resounded with a clear note when struck, and by 1947 Mannette had perfected a drum with two octaves of a diatonic scale. Today, steel drums continue to be made mostly by hand, using many of Mannette’s original techniques.

In 1951, the Trinidad All Steel Percussion Orchestra, of which Mannette was a member, appeared at Britain’s Festival of the Arts and introduced orchestrated steelpan music to the world. In the 1960’s, he helped develop the United States Navy Steel Band, which brought steel-band music to the American public. Mannette migrated to the United States in 1967. Building and tuning pans, he promoted the art of playing the instrument and began conducting lectures and workshops. The director of West Virginia University’s Creative Arts Center saw Mannette performing at a workshop in North Carolina and persuaded him to come to the Mountain State.

Mannette arrived in Morgantown in 1992 and became an artist-in-residence and coordinator of the steel drum program at WVU. He started training students in aspects of the art form with the University Tuning Project, in which a student could learn how to construct his own steel drum. Many American universities now have steel-pan ensembles of their own, some led by Mannette’s former apprentices. In 2000, Mannette founded Mannette Steel Drums, Ltd., whose drums are distributed worldwide.

In 1999, Mannette received the highest U.S. honor in the arts, a National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. In 2000, he returned to his homeland to receive the Trinidad and Tobago Chaconia Silver Medal from the minister of culture. He also was awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of the West Indies at St. Augustine. He was inducted into the Percussive Arts Society Hall of Fame in 2003.

Mannette lived in Morgantown until his death. He was 90.

Last Revised on September 04, 2018


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e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia "Ellie Mannette." e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. 04 September 2018. Web. 21 September 2018.

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