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The History of Steelband in Trinidad and Tobago

Len Loved The Spirit Of Togetherness

January 11, 1998
By Terry Joseph

Had Lenagan Barnes survived the massive pulmonary thrombosis that took his life last Sunday, he might well have died from shock anyway and long before Friday, when his funeral topped out five full days of appreciation by a volume of friends he probably never knew he had.

Since news of his death, which occurred at 11.45 a.m. at the Mt Hope Hospital last Sunday, outpourings of sentiment, the likes of which Lenagan Barnes may not have experienced at any time during the last 58 years, amazed even longstanding members of the Harvard Club, who had seen several of their more famous members leave them.

They were astonished too at the intensity of participation in the various events that marked his death. Contingents from several countries across the Caribbean and North America flew in and not just for his funeral (which doubled as a major social event), but to join the throng of locals in nightly wakes and observances that did not end simply because he was laid to rest at the Mucurapo Cemetery.

Scores of mourners were unable to find even standing room in the stuffed St Mary's RC Church in St. James. Confused by the traffic gridlock outside, a woman innocently asked a police officer "How many funerals taking place in there?"

Hundreds returned to the Harvard Club after the funeral and continued the wake, with pelau, speeches and toasts, and entertainment provided by Relator, David Bereaux and the Harvard Harps steelband.

Several famous names in the steelband world attended the funeral too, including Othello Molineaux, Annise Hadeed, Rudy "Two Left" Smith, Owen Serrette, Nestor Sullivan and Selwyn Tarradath. Barnes, after all, was a steelband captain and furthermore, had been associated with pan for the past 40 years.

The funeral and the wake saw people like Trevor Boopsingh, Pat Harper, Alyson Brown, Alvin Dorsett, Tony Smart, Hamilton Clement, Alva G. Rolston, Wilbur Barker, Michael Paty, Ron "Beef" Pollard, Angela Pidduck, Neil Jones, Alec Clarke, Noel "Brigand" Gonsalves, Brig. Carl Alfonso, Andy Johnson, Stephen Derek, Felix "Baldy" Hernandez, Dwight Day, Ian McKenzie, the foreign contingents, and large representative groups from the Harvard and Over the Hill Boys Clubs and the Campbell clan.

Mervyn Campbell, in eulogizing Barnes, said: "This week was special. Never in the history of Harvard has there been such an outpouring of love and affection at the loss of a member as was shown over the past few days."

Canon Winston Joseph, at an observance held by and at the Over the Hill Boys Club in Belmont, said: "Len loved the spirit of togetherness; there wasn't a dull moment when he was around, even when the joke was on him."

Since last Sunday, the Harvard Club has enjoyed unprecedented nightly traffic, peaking on Thursday and Friday, with numbers exceeding attendance at its last annual general meeting. On Thursday too, the Over the Hill Boys Club (of which Barnes was a founding member) held their own formal gathering to mark his passing.

Later that same night, the Charismatic movement led a prayer meeting that involved the full Harvard club house in singing and hand-clapping, an observance which delayed the start of a practice session for the steelband. During the week, the Harvard Harps had hurriedly conscripted the likes of Petrotrin CEO Lawford Dupres (who journeyed nightly from his official residence at Point Fortin), Georgie Ng Wai (who virtually abandoned Second Imij for the period) and Curtis Pierre, whose arrangement of the hymns "Blessed Assurance" and "Amazing Grace" were played at the funeral service.

Barnes, a lifelong steelband enthusiast (and player since 1959) founded the Harps some five years ago and demanded that the group's players attend regular rehearsals.

Mervyn Campbell, in eulogizing Barnes at the funeral service, traced his history in pan, from the founding of the first band (Del Vikings) in 1960, which portrayed Red Indians, designed by none other than Peter Minshall (at the time, a Queen's Royal College student).

Barnes completed school with distinctions in Latin, French, Spanish and English. He then left for London to study aeronautic engineering, but soon ditched that and went to New York instead where, among other things, he formed another steelband - Afronicks. It would be the start of a continuing linkage between Barnes and the carnivals of the Caribbean and North America. In the post-funeral wake, Jeanie Robinson brought greetings from Jamaica Carnival and noted Barnes' contribution to integration of peoples in the region through this medium.

Even as he attended to steelband matters in New York, Barnes graduated from NYU with a BA Honours degree, then from Long Island University with an MBA. Barnes was also a founding member of the Over the Hill Boys, a sport and culture club. He initiated the joint Christmas projects between Harvard and Over the Hill Boys, hosting annual parties for under-privileged children from various institutions.

He was also responsible for the initiation of the Harvard Youth Football Clinics. Barnes enjoyed participating in sports too, demonstrating more theatre than ability, but winning hearts with his undying enthusiasm. As goalkeeper for last November's Bachelors vs. Benedicts game, Barnes conceded eight goals for the Bachelors, but that was okay. It was Len.

Campbell ended his eulogy with the wish that "We continue to have fond and long-lasting memories of a life that has touched us all."

Lenagan Dennis Barnes was born on October 9, 1939. He died January 4, 1998. He leaves to mourn four children, Keisha, Kia, Ariel and Rianna and if we are to judge by the last week, hundreds of friends.

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