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Pan legend Tony Williams bounces back

Tony Willimas
By Terry Joseph
June 06, 2003

STEELBAND innovator Anthony "Tony" Williams is recovering from the diabetic coma triggered by an accident he suffered at his home on Monday.

Williams, 73, suffered a seizure and slipped into the coma when he slipped and fell in his kitchen. He was taken to Port of Spain General Hospital where he remains under observation.

Pan Trinbago's Northern Region coordinator Fitzroy "Castro" Henry, who regularly looks in on Williams, said on Tuesday: "For all of Monday he couldn't even talk but this morning he began speaking, asking for water and other things. We are grateful for that."

The work of Williams, who is considered by pan historians as one of the most important innovators in the instrument's history, has gone largely unrewarded.

Williams, who first came to public attention at the turn of the 1950s with Sun Valley Steel Orchestra, was selected as one of 13 players to perform at the 1951 Festival of Britain, when the Trinidad All Steel Percussion Orchestra (TASPO) made the first bold attempt to spread pan's reach to Europe.

Shortly after his return from England, Williams joined North Stars, then under the captaincy of Henry Harper. He moved with the band through several panyard relocations and other changes, ending up as captain when the band set up base at Bombay Street in 1953.

In 1962, Williams took the band to victory at the music festival, performing memorable interpretations of Strauss' "Voices of Spring" and the test piece, Umilta Mc Shine's "People of the Islands".

Impressed by that performance, Pan American World Airways sponsored Williams' band, outfitting them for the inaugural Panorama contest of 1963 (then called The Best Road March Steelband Competition), at which North Stars won the $1,000 first prize, playing Sparrow's "Dan is the Man in the Van". With Williams at the helm, Pan Am Jet North Stars went on to win the 1964 Panorama title, narrowly missing the hat-trick in 1965, but one year later, returned to winner's row at the music festival after which the band withdrew from the competitive environment.

Pan Am Jet North Stars also made several tours, appearing on the Ed Sullivan Show with world-famous pianist, Trinidad-born Winnifred Atwell, playing selections from their joint album Ivory and Steel. It was a work praised everywhere it was heard and most notably by composer Leopold Stokowsky.

Williams spent much of his early career dedicated to pan research and development, creating greater steelband mobility at Carnival by his innovative design of pan racks that accommodated wheels and making a soprano pan from sheet metal instead of the standard oil drum.

Those and other triumphs were however eclipsed by his invention of the spiderweb pan, its notes radiating from the centre and arranged in a circle of fourths and fifths that used all the available space.

And if that wasn't enough for his competitors, it later came to their attention that each ascending note was precisely one-eighth of an inch narrower than the preceding note in the circle.

Largely unrewarded for his tireless efforts at improving pan, Williams was eventually offered a government job as Steelband Development Officer in the Ministry of Youth Affairs; it was a posting that brought much needed income but further frustrated him until his official retirement in 1993.

In 2001, Pan Trinbago gave him a $10,000 gift to assist with urgently required repairs to his home. Word getting back to the organisation is that most of the money was gobbled up by public utilities whom he owed large sums.

Although for many years an insulin-dependent diabetic, Williams has been caring for his wife Barbara, who is stricken with a debilitating illness.

Mrs Williams is now at the St Martin's Home on Ariapita Avenue, Woodbrook, following arrangements made by Pan Trinbago.

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