By Carl Joseph
The son of the late legendary steelpan grandmaster Eustace “Manning” Henry, who died earlier this week, said that the loss of his father has come as a huge blow to the family.
Alston Henry, who was with his father for the very last moments of his life, said the cultural icon died on Monday, after suffering for some time with Alzheimer’s disease.
The grandmaster, ‘skip’, master steelpan builder, tuner, bender, soloist, arranger, and long-time captain of Hell’s Gate Steel Orchestra, died at the age of 90 at his home on Bryon’s Street, Villa.
“Everyone is taking it rough, especially me. I was right there when he took his last breath and it’s been very troubling for me,” Alston explained as he recalled his countless sleepless nights. He said that he has been up replaying the last moments he spent with his father over and over in his head.
Hell’s Gate, which will this year mark its 75th anniversary, is said to be the oldest, continuously operating steel band in the world. Manning was its captain from 1959 to 1978.
“One of the things he promoted a lot in the band was discipline. Even up to now the high level of discipline you see in the band is because of him,” Alston recalled.
As a little boy, Alston remembers seeing his father playing pan daily at home after he got home from work at the post office.
“Being in the house and of course hearing the pan music, playing, playing, playing… you get interested. And so I played my first piece when I was five years old,” Alston said.
Alston said that first piece he played – ‘Elizabethan Serenade’ by Ronald Binge – was one of Manning’s favourites and is likely to be performed at his funeral.
A veteran pannist in his own right, Alston broke the news to the rest of the musical fraternity via a pan social media group where he said, from there, the condolences and well-wishes came flooding in.
“He was a great man… He led the band well… He was an outstanding band leader,” were just some of the words coming from band members and the wider pan community to Alston as they learned of his father’s passing.
While at the helm of one of the world’s most famous orchestras, the grandmaster provided for his family as a postman until he retired at the age of 60. In retirement he took to being a taxi dispatcher in St John’s.
He was also a former lightweight boxing champion.
Manning is survived by his wife of 60 years, Audrey Henry, and his seven children – Eustace Henry Jr, Cordella Joseph, Heather Joseph, Carol Lynne, Veron Henry, Alston Henry and Orville Henry. Manning also had two other children, now deceased – Sinclair Henry and Hyvie Henry.
An autopsy is to be performed on the pannist’s body and, as such, the family is uncertain of the date for his burial. The funeral will be held at Manning’s longtime church, Spring Gardens Moravian.