The Legacy of Ken “Professor” Philmore

A quotation from an interview with Ken ‘Professor’ Philmore. “I believe the children are our future, Teach them well and let them lead the way, Show them all the beauty they possess inside, Give them a sense of pride….”

A light that burned so brightly, lighting the way for others to follow… Ken ‘Professor’ Philmore’s life can best be described through the enduring lyrics of the hit song, ‘The Greatest Love of All’.

Ken’s love of the national instrument-the steel pan, his passion, heart and musical genius ultimately was the basis for his vision of creating a legacy of excellence. His drive to show the versatility of the musical range of the pan instrument, to teach and develop the youth as well as work with fellow musicians all over the world was relentless to ensure that the coming generations would continue to take Trinidad & Tobago’s national instrument, the steel pan, to the world.

Ken’s life and character was grounded by his strong family up-bringing and faith in God, his selfless love for his wife Sophia, his children, siblings and extended family and numerous friends. To know Ken ’Professor’ Philmore was to experience an emotional bond.

His generosity knew no bounds and it is that generosity that he brought through his music to our country and to the world through our national instrument. As one of the Pioneers of Pan, Ken achieved his dream of taking pan to the world.

Ken’s romance with the steel pan began when, at the age nine (9) he received the gift of a tenor pan from his cousins, Barry and Ferdinand Brathwaite. After picking the notes and teaching himself to play over years of persistence, the late Steve Achaiba, former Captain of Hatters, asked his father to allow him to come to the pan yard. There was great resistance, however, Ken’s father finally began taking Ken to Hatters pan yard in 1974 when Ken was fourteen years old.

Steve Achaiba recognized that Ken had perfect pitch and eventually made Ken a Section Leader giving him the music to share with the other tenor pan players. Many seniors at Hatters pan yard often wondered who was the boy with the big round glasses, and they said he looked like a ‘professor’. They began calling Ken “Professor” and many of his friends also called him ‘Pro’ which is the Trinidadian short-form for ‘Professor’ and not ‘Prof’ as many believe. In 1975, Hatters won the National Panorama with A Tribute to Spree Simon, when Ken was a fifteen (15) year old tenor player, and it was from that time Ken’s career in pan music took off.

Ken practiced, and practiced to develop his solo pan skills, as well as and his God given talent of perfect pitch. His talent as a pan soloist and arranger was so impressive that by 1985 he became musical director/arranger for one of the nation’s prestigious steel orchestra, Fonclaire. Ken was also selected in 1985 to play for Queen Elizabeth II on her royal visit to Trinidad and Tobago.

Locally, Ralph Mc Donald, Alvin Daniel, Mark Loquan, Boogsie Sharpe, Pelham Goddard, Carl “Beaver” Henderson, Clive Zanda, Destra Garcia, Anthony Prescott (Vocalist of Pan By Storm) and the late Pat Bishop and the late Lord Kitchener, represent only a segment of the persons with whom Ken collaborated either as a performer, composer or arranger.

Ken’s vision of creating a platform for young people to take our national instrument to the world with distinction is well documented, as he was a recognized teacher at Pleasantville Senior Comprehensive. He taught well known artistes such as Liam Teague and Darren Sheppard, Wentworth Richardson and many more. He also trained and took Pleasantville Senior Comprehensive to several school pan competitions. Interestingly, although Ken was a self-taught musical prodigy he never took advantage of studying music formally. He thanked God at every opportunity for his gift of perfect pitch and musical blessings.

Several steel bands have been the beneficiaries of Ken ‘Professor’ Philmore’s musical genius. Ken arranged for several steel bands from the east, west, north, south and even Tobago. Some of these bands include- Fonclaire, Skiffle Bunch, Hatters, Casablanca, Power Stars, Potential Symphony, Sangre Grande Cordettes, Pamberi, Courts Laventille Sound Specialists, Gay Hoytonians, Solo Harmonities, Metro Stars, T&TEC New East Side Dimension, Invaders and Our Boys and many more. Every year Ken arranged and qualified for Panorama finals in one or more than one category of the competition. Fonclaire played several of Ken’s compositions for Panorama and was very competitive at the Panorama finals achieving a hat trick of second place positions for three consecutive years (1989, 1990 and 1991).

His crowning glory at Panorama finals (large bands), came in 1990, when he took the world by Storm with his own composition, Pan by Storm. Ken’s arrangement of Pan by Storm performed by Fonclaire was magical and inspirational. That year Fonclaire was placed second in the Panorama large bands competition by half (0.5) of a point. To shock and dismay of supporters locally and internationally, to this day, many still discuss and lament that decision.

Courts Laventille Sound Specialist entered the Medium band category of the Panorama competition and won that category or achieved many top placements with the winning compositions of Mark Loquan and Ken ”Professor” Philmore. Most bands sought after Ken each year as an arranger because they believed that Professor’s arrangement would qualify them for the Panorama finals. Ken “Professor” Philmore is one of the most talented pannists who had emerged from the South of Trinidad.

In 1985, Ken produced his first album – Our Heritage, which featured a mixture of jazz classics such as Mr. Magic, Stardust together with pan instrumentals of popular calypsos in that same year.

Ken’s drive and love for the instrument produced eleven (11) Pan Albums / CD’s featuring his own compositions since 1987 are as follows:

• Pan Calypso (1987)

• Love in Steel (1988)

• Pan Jamboree (1989)

• Pan By Storm (1990)

• Pan Ecstasy (1991)

• Pan in the Party (1992)

• All Night (1993)

• Graduation (1997)

• Cruzin’ (2014)

• Perfect Combination (2014)

Ken also produced “Professor Sings”, a CD which includes – Carnival is We, Rapso Time, Pan By Storm, Calypso, Jump Up In The Road.

His music was also featured on the Pan Assembly (collection). Ken also composed his own blend of jazz music releasing CDs such as: Sifting through the Notes, Philmore’s Dream, Rhythm in the Groove, Cruizin, Love in Steel, Graduation, Perfect Combination (featuring Jerome Bissessar) and his signature composition for Fonclaire, Pan By Storm. Composer of Panorama pieces Mark Loquan worked along with Ken to produce eleven (11) songs which Ken arranged for bands. From this collaboration Ken arranged Panorama pieces for Courts Laventille Sound Specialist which was very successful in the Medium band category where they won Panorama in 2007 with Hooked, 2008 with Johnnie and often placed in the finals almost every year.

Ken’s impact was so great that he was honoured by Pan Trinbago as one of the most promising pan arrangers of the 1980’s. During Ken’s career as a Solo Pannist, Pan Arranger and Composer, he was honoured with many awards locally and internationally.

Inspired by some friends, Ken produced two concerts in the 1990’s – A Man and his Music and Ken ‘Professor’ Philmore in Concert. They were well attended by his fans from both north and south at Roxy in St. James and at the Naparima Bowl in San Fernando. These concerts were frequently aired on Channel 4 which is no longer in operation.

Since his promotion to Heaven, His Worship Junia Regrello, the Mayor of the City of San Fernando, held a week of activities from February 18 – 24, 2019 titled, Cultural Icons Week during which the late Ken ‘Professor’ Philmore received the following recognition / tributes:

· A short street in Ken ‘Professor’ Philmore’s name was unveiled at the top of High Street, San Fernando.

· An Exhibition was held from February 18-24, 2019 at the City Hall Auditorium on Harris Promenade displaying all Ken’s trophies, awards, photo gallery, gazette gallery. Additionally, famous testimonies from abroad and significant interviews done with Ken were on display at the Exhibition.

· A Calypso competition was held for persons paying tribute in song to the ‘Professor’. Eleven (11) contestants registered and it was a qualified success.

International Achievements:

In New York, Ken arranged for BWIA Sonatas and Harmony Music Makers. BWIA Sonatas brought home six (6) wins under his baton. In 1989 Ken received a special award from Mayor Koch for his contribution to music in New York. He performed in Los Angeles, and Madison Square Garden to standing ovations.

Ken Philmore was the first Trinidadian artiste to be featured at B.E.T. Jazz Central where he was interviewed by Vanessa Rubin and the late Lou Rawls. He showed the versatility of the pan instrument with a scintillating performance before a live audience. Ken continued to take pan to the world and performed in countries such as:-

· Japan where he conducted a series of lectures and concerts

· South Africa for the launch of their first Carnival

· Nigeria Carnival Celebrations

· London Carnival and other European countries

· USA (from Miami to New York, Washington to Los Angeles)

· Canada

He loved playing the tenor pan, and his persistence and drive led him to become an ambassador of Trinidad and Tobago steel pan music – to students and musicians alike locally and internationally. Many including the late Dr. Ellie Mannette ensured that Ken’s talents as a musician and pan arranger were not hidden. From 1987 to 1997 Ken lectured at universities locally and abroad as follows:


· The Kennedy Centre, Washington, DC

· Yale University

· Harvard University

· New York Tech Community College

· University of West Virginia

· Howard University

· Michigan University

· Virginia University

· Catonsville High School (Maryland, USA)

· Old Mill High School (Maryland, USA)

Ken ‘Professor’ Philmore was a leader, pioneer of the national instrument and forerunner as a musician. Ken’s launch to international platforms however, came during his musical partnership with the late Lord Kitchener.

In as much as he brought the music of our national instrument to the Queen’s Park Savannah, he also brought it to Nigeria, Japan, Canada, the Caribbean, London – arranging for the Metronomes, the USA (Broadway, BET and the Apollo Theatre) to name a few well known stages. He graced well know shows such as Good Morning America to promote and display music on the pan. Ken played with international, regional and local artistes such as Tito Puente – Latin American Musician, Jazz singer Nancy Wilson, Tina Turner, Phyllis Hyman, Little Richard, Bob James, Arturo Tappin, Ralph Mc Donald, Tina Turner and Lionel Hampton (NY), Andy Narell, the late Ella Fitzgerald, Lou Rawls, and Duke Ellington orchestra.

Ken’s encounter with the late Mercer Ellington would give him the opportunity to sign a five (5) year contract with the Duke Ellington Orchestra, but because of the love of his country, Trinidad and Tobago, Ken declined signing what would have been a lucrative contract, as it would have prevented him from returning to Trinidad for the annual Panorama season. For Ken ‘Professor’ Philmore his love and commitment to Trinidad & Tobago came before personal gain. His music can however be heard in the Duke Ellington Orchestra’s recording of “Queenie Pie Reggae” on their record “Music is My Mistress”.

Ken ‘Professor’ Philmore has also performed at places such as Carnegie Hall in New York, The Royal Albert Hall in London and the Apollo Theatre in Harlem.

During Ken’s career, he performed at several Jazz Festivals in Washington DC, Jazz Central on BET, Atlanta, St. Croix Jazz Festival, Barbados, Guyana, Tobago, St. Lucia, Joy of Jazz Johannesburg, Boston Symphony Hall and many others.

His passion for his art was an expression of what was in his soul. It shone in every movement of his performance; you heard it in every note. Ken ‘Professor’ Philmore had a love affair with the steel pan that made him the consummate player and servant leader. Not only did he bring Trinidad and Tobago’s pan music to the world, he showed the world that any genre of music could be played on our national instrument. He was a true Ambassador of Trinidad and Tobago. The first ‘Professor’ of Pan.

Ken is also described by many as the ‘Professor’ who is one of the top steel-drum soloists in the world.

“Because the greatest Love of all is happening to me, I found the greatest Love of all inside of me” – Within himself,

Ken fulfilled his love for God,

Ken fulfilled his love for the National Instrument, the steel pan,

Ken fulfilled his love for his family and friends,

Ken fulfilled his love for teaching and developing the youth,

Ken fulfilled the love and passion of taking pan all over the world,

Ken fulfilled his love for his country of birth, Trinidad and Tobago and ultimately happily achieved, his true Purpose in life.

The legacy of the late Ken ‘Professor’ Philmore has been formalized with the official registration of the Ken ‘Professor’ Philmore Foundation.

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