In 1966 (and again in 1968), the Marionettes Chorale and Pan Am North Stars steel orchestra performed an arrangement of Franz von Suppé’s Poet & Peasant overture, both times conducted by Marionettes co-founder Jocelyn Pierre. On both occasions, it received thunderous applause from the audience. The collaboration has been documented by the press and by steelband historians as the first time a choir and a steelband shared the stage, blending voices and steel at a live concert performance of that nature — both separately and together, in a way we now take for granted. The Marionettes and North Stars built on this groundbreaking template with a full concert in 1968.
Jocelyn, who also worked in the steelband community — one of the movement’s earliest female arrangers and adjudicators, and a trailblazer for women in pan — spearheaded the historic collaboration North Stars’ legendary leader, Anthony “Tony” Williams, who was her friend and colleague. Both celebrated groups had copped major prizes that year: Pan Am Jet North Stars had won the Steelband Music Festival playing the Poet & Peasant overture, while the Marionettes had topped the Trinidad & Tobago Music Festival, winning the JCC Cup for Best Adult Choir and Mary Elizabeth Evans Cup for Best Religious & Church Choir. Jocelyn consequently invited North Stars to guest at September Song, and to perform one joint number — a choral arrangement of the Poet & Peasant overture — with the choir.
The collaboration was so successful that they repeated the performance at Sunday Night at Queen’s Hall in 1968. The evening was part of a regular concert series produced by Queen’s Hall, under manager Otto Massiah. September Song had set the template, upon which Jocelyn further built for Sunday Night at Queen’s Hall, adding additional joint numbers between the groups. You can also hear “Voices of Spring” and “Some Enchanted Evening” from that evening.
Trinidad culture has just scored one of its biggest breakthroughs. The milestone was reached on Saturday night at Queen’s Hall when Pan Am Jet North Stars joined with the Marionettes Chorale in a steelband and choral recital … The recital featured the groups individually and together on several standard and classical pieces. Having them together was an experiment which clicked so smoothly that one was left to wonder: why was it not done on such a grand scale before? But then, only Marionettes and Pan Am could have served the sort of richly-flavoured menu which the city audience digested with such relish. They are the champions of champions. They are the pace setters. Now others will follow and from now on, the sky is the limit.
The photographs in this video are from the 1968 performance. If you look closely, you can spy founder member Joanne Mendes, Gretta Taylor, and Susan Dore — who would go on to become the Production Manager, Musical Director, and Assistant Musical Director of the choir in 1974 after Jocelyn suffered a stroke and later left to pursue studies in Canada. You can also see renowned architect and director Barry Franceschi, who sang with the choir and also went on to direct several of its presentations, and Murchison Brown — a founder member who would go on to be Mayor of Port of Spain.
Recorded by Radio Trinidad live at Queen’s Hall, Trinidad & Tobago, Caribbean in 1966.