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Dedicated to St Clair Morris 1938 - 2017

Khadijah Ibrahiim

When we think about the Windrush generation, it’s often of those who came as factory workers, nurses, bus drivers and so on. We often forget about those who arrived in England as artists and contributors to the traditional musical genres of the Caribbean people. So, let’s take a moment to imagine a dream.

Imagine a child named St Clair Leroy Augustine Morris, born in 1938 in Otley Village, St Kitts, who at the age of 14 years masters the art of playing steel pan, and singing the rich sounds of calypso songs. A calypsonian and musician with a message, who in 1961 arrives in England, and makes Leeds his hometown.

Imagine a steel pan tuned in the ready hands of this man, who became a father, and births a foundation of artistry in his children, to empower a soul fire, a building block or, as the saying goes, 'The Head Corner Stone'. From St Kitts to industrial Leeds, St Clair's story became the pillar of a progressive household, whose gifts and contributions flowed into the African Caribbean community.

He was very aware of the importance of music and culture; the importance of heritage, all of which manifested in his work, especially with those children whose parents came from the British Caribbean colonies to England during the 1950s and 60s and faced racism and rejection. His rejection of race and his love for pan steered his work into becoming something quite phenomenal.

In 1972 he started the Paradise Steel Band and by 1976, he was Leeds’ first steel pan teacher in schools, travelling across the city and across the country, breaking down boundaries with his pan and sticks. There were schools with 100% white working-class kids who had never met a black person up close, still less knew anything of Caribbean culture. And I have it on good authority that they loved him, Mr. Morris, as he was known and respected across the city. 

Let’s take a moment to think of his influence and the way in which he gave back to the city of Leeds. St Clair's home was the central hub for young musicians from Chapeltown and Harehills, who would congregate in the basement of his home on Gathorne Terrance. There he taught drums, the bass and the art of steel pan.

Let us celebrate his legacy of over five decades and three generations of giving to a community, illuminated through his gift of music, his love of pan, rooted in the African Caribbean experience of calypso, reggae and soul music. That legacy remains with us, in the beautiful sounds he made.

Legacies are there to be passed on and built on. Paradise is surely his -- Ase o!

Paulette Morris is our Stock Manager. Our thoughts are with Paulette and her family today.

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