The steelband world lost an icon with the passing of Ken Professor Philmore on the morning of Sunday, September 30 at the San Fernando General Hospital in south Trinidad.
Six days before on the night of Trinidad and Tobago Republic Day, ‘Pro’ was injured when his SUV over-turned on the highway as he was making his way back home after performing at an event in San Fernando.
He was thrown out of the vehicle and admitted to the hospital with broken ribs and punctured lungs. He died of a cardiac arrest.
The 58 year-old stood as one of Trinidad and Tobago’s greatest and most celebrated steelpan arrangers, composers and players.
In the more than four decades that he has been in the steelband movement, he emerged as a perennial threat at the annual national Panorama competition.
A “South Man” to the core, ‘Professor,’ played with several of the region’s top bands before he started arranging for one of the big bands, Fonclaire in 1985, taking them into the winners row at the Southern Zone Panorama for five consecutive years from 1988. He also carried his band to three-second places finishes at the national level in 1989, 1990 and 1991.
In 1996, he was honored by Pan Trinbago, the national steelband association, as one of the most promising arrangers.
In the Medium Bands category, he took Sounds Specialists of Laventille to the top echelon of the competition in 2007 and 2008.
As a true ambassador of pan, he took his arranging skills to New York where he won the panorama competition on several occasions, with Sonatas Steelband.
As a composer, he penned several memorable pan songs such as Pan By Storm, Pan Estacy and Pan In The Party.
His talent as a soloist has taken him around the world including performances at the Washington DC Pan Jazz Festival, St. Croix Jazz Festival, Atlanta Jazz Festival, Barbados Jazz Festivals, Tobago Jazz Festival, Guyana Music Festival, Joy of Jazz Johannesburg and at the Boston Symphony Hall.
He has also shared the stage with many legendary musicians and performers such as Tina Turner and Lionel Hampton and played with the world-renowned Latin American musician Tito Puente.
As the arranger for Fonclaire Steel Orchestra, he was responsible for some of the most memorable Panorama music ever composed. His hits include “Pan By Storm”, “Pan Ecstasy” and “Pan in the Party”.
He also found success on the international stage with performances at Carnegie Hall in New York, The Royal Albert Hall in London and the Apollo Theatre in Harlem. He had the opportunity to perform alongside great entertainers such as our local Lord Kitchener and with several international acts.
In the days following his passing there has been an out-pouring of tributes from political leaders, musicians and the steelpan fraternity in the Caribbean to a man whom many describe as super talented as well as engaging and kind.
T&T Prime Minister Dr. Keith Rowley was one of the first to pay tribute: Mr. Philmore, a beloved son of South Trinidad, began honing his skills on the national instrument at a very early age and went on to establish himself as one of the premiere names in pan. The self-taught musician demonstrated a continuous dedication to his craft, which solidified him as an incomparable talent.
Panmen and steelband organizations in the Caribbean also issued touching tributes to a man they have all come to love and respect.
The Grenada Steel Band Association (GSBA) stated that “the footprints “Professor” left will always be recorded in our history, they will always form part of the legacy and times of the global steel pan movement and for this we are eternally grateful.
We who are alive to owe it to him ensure that his legacy lives on.
To the members of the entire Pan Trinbago family, we say, stand firm, stay strong and never lose sight of the fragility of life, and what your life represents as part of an international movement.
Ken touched the lives of many with his enthusiasm for music, his passion for pan and his excitement for the stage. Many of our young arrangers in Grenada have embraced him as a role model for all the positive attributes that he imparted.”