Caribbean musician feted for lifetime achievement

Earl La Pierre shows off his Lifetime Achievement Award. - Photo: Alvaro Serey

Earl La Pierre has spent his life bringing Caribbean rhythms to the world.

And now, the world is thanking him for it.

Mr. La Pierre, a native of Trinidad who has spent extensive time in Canada and Cayman, was feted on Sept. 23 with a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Caribbean Music & Entertainment Awards.

The event was held in Toronto, where Mr. La Pierre has starred at the local Caribana festival for decades. Mr. La Pierre, a virtuoso on the steel pan, leads a Toronto band named Afropan Steelband and has taught music at multiple schools in Cayman for more than 30 years.

“It means everything,” said Mr. La Pierre of his recent Lifetime Achievement Award.

“I’ve been getting awards, awards, awards.”

Mr. La Pierre was an instructor at the University of Toronto when he came to Cayman for the first time. The year was 1986, and he came to town as a performer for Pirates Week. But he fell in love with Cayman and began sensing the opportunity to bring the steel pan to a new Caribbean locale.

“It was country,” he said of Cayman’s music scene. “Guys walking around in boots with big hats and big belts. I was like, ‘Wow! How can these guys be looking like a cowboy with the ocean right over there?’”

Mr. La Pierre gave a local workshop to school children on that first journey in 1986, and right before he left, he received a phone call from the proprietors of the Treasure Island resort.

“They said, ‘Hey, we need somebody like you here to play for us,’” he said. “Tourists love the steel pan. I was teaching at the University of Toronto at that time. I gave that up and I came back and I’m still here.” Decades later, Mr. La Pierre said the steel pan has really caught on in Cayman, and he dubbed himself “The Godfather” to multiple generations of bands that learned from his tutelage.

Even now, Mr. La Pierre said, he is able to pass on his knowledge to children and adults alike. The veteran of stage and song said that he teaches a group of adults at the University College of the Cayman Islands, but the most fertile minds that pick up the instrument are still in grade school.

“Especially now, young people are grabbing it,” he said. “I teach the steel pan here in six schools. It’s grown this year. Instead of having 16 kids, I have 40 kids. They’re all in double numbers now in classes.”

The instrument is easy to learn, he said, and it provides immediate dividends. Mr. La Pierre is a self-taught musician, and he said that people pick it up pretty quickly with a little bit of guidance.

“In a year, they’ll be great,” Mr. La Pierre said. “In my adult class, they meet once a week every Monday from 6 to 8 [p.m.]. When I finish with them, they’ll have at least six songs they can perform anywhere.”

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