Earl La Pierre: Cayman's 'Man of Steel'

Meet Earl La Pierre.

Even if you haven’t heard of him — you’ve most likely heard him … or his music, or that of his thousands of protégés in the Cayman Islands.

Mr. La Pierre is the closest thing Cayman has to an iconic musical treasure. Instead of strings, woodwinds and brass, the “orchestras” that Mr. La Pierre conducts are composed of steel pan.

Mr. La Pierre’s photo graces the front cover of today’s edition of Weekender (included inside this newspaper). The occasion, as our inside story relates, is in honor of a recent award he received on the 75th birthday of the iconic Trinidadian steel band, Invaders.

But that award is just, to use an industry term, the “news hook.”

In reality, Mr. La Pierre would be worthy of an article in our publications at just about any time over the past 25 years, during which period he has been one of the most important figures in the development of the musical arts in Cayman. According to Mr. La Pierre, “I’ve taught perhaps 3,000 kids in Cayman since 1989. Every year I probably teach 100-plus in the school system.”

To put it another way, if you are in Cayman, and the familiar notes of the steel pan reach your ears, you are probably experiencing the fruits of Mr. La Pierre’s genius.

The arc of Mr. La Pierre’s life, which, of course, has been guided by his music, is distinctive yet completely in character with the Caribbean, and Cayman. His narrative is informed by international experience, but is grounded in the traditions of his hometown upbringing.

Born in Port of Spain, Trinidad, Mr. La Pierre inherited his love for music from his mother. Despite his mother’s aversion to the reputation of the “bad guys” who were the local musicians, Mr. La Pierre couldn’t resist the call of the steel pan. “I always wanted to play, and the Invaders were my love,” he said.

He committed himself to the craft, and the steel pan led him all the way to Toronto, where he founded the group Afropan in 1973, which has gone on to win the city’s annual Pan Alive competition more than 30 times.

In 1986, Mr. La Pierre first visited Cayman, and he came down for good three years later, when then-Pirates Week chief Dave Martins (himself a musician of The Tradewinds fame) invited him to lead a band to play under George Town’s Clock Tower. Since then, Mr. La Pierre has started many local steel bands and has taught students at schools across the island.

Two of his remaining dreams, he says, are to create a full-time Cayman School of Pan, and to start an official Cayman National Steel Band to represent the country in overseas competitions.

Such is the performance of Mr. La Pierre’s life and vocation, ovation after ovation, encore after encore.