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Tribute to Ken “Professor” Philmore

by Professor Brian Copeland

I also remember “Pro” for his stage performances on his acoustic tenor. I recall asking him why he didn’t have the techs place the microphone facing the top of the pan where the sound was a lot better. His response was in keeping with the animated “Pro” performance – when he really he gets into a tune he could not help but to vocalize a lot in synch with his performance and he didn’t want his outbursts to be heard over the sound system. What an amazing guy! - Brian Copeland

Published with the expressed permission of, and submitted by - Brian Copeland

Trinidad & Tobago, W.I. - It was with deep sadness that I received word of the passing of Ken “Professor” Philmore – the first “Professor” of Pan.... Ken was not just a remarkable proponent of the art of pan, but a really energetically kind-spirited individual as well. He was a shining example to young aspiring panists everywhere. The world has lost another steelpan great, this one going all too soon.

Ken “Professor” Philmore
Ken “Professor” Philmore

I first met “Pro” while reading for my PhD in Los Angeles, California. Those were brief encounters at two gigs in which he starred. I remember asking him to play his rendition of Stardust, my personal top 10 favorite at the time, which he recorded with Godwin Bowen, Junior Wharwood, Albert Bushe, Jr. and Pedro Lezama.

   Ken 'Professor' Philmore - Stardust
 

Later on, some 15 years later, I was proud to have him collaborate with us at the Steelpan Laboratory at UWI (University of the West Indies) in the early days of the development of the Percussive Harmonic Instrument (PHI). As I recall, he was probably the first such professional collaborator to carry a test unit home. It was through him that we got a full appreciation of the level of professionalism required in our work. It was because of him, and his critique of that early design, that the instrument took the form that it has today.

I recall the moment. In those days, the PHI generated its sound using an external device – a PC with appropriate sound synthesis software or an off-the-shelf sound module. We used the Roland Sound Canvas at the time because it was easy to use and had the most realistic pan tones of the commercial sound modules available. But the quality of those tones were not up to Ken “Professor” Philmore’s standard. He scampered back into the lab the day after he carried that first PHI, Roland Sound Canvas in hand and said, “Dr. Copeland, I am a professional. I cannot use this box on stage.” Something to that effect. We quickly hooked him up with a laptop with sampled G-pan tones – that is as real as one could get using the electronics. It did the job but was a bit more difficult to use; in fact Ken admitted that he wasn’t as adept with computers as Sophie was. So she was the one who had to fire it up for him to use. Those two experiences – the poor fidelity of the pan tones on the commercially available sound modules (they still are quite poor) and the awkwardness of the computers that played our own high quality pan tones – forced us to accelerate our plans to build a synthesizer function into the PHI electronics. This is the design used on the last two prototypes.

Signature wall, Steelpan Laboratory at UWI St. Augustine
Signature wall, Steelpan Laboratory at UWI St. Augustine

I also remember “Pro” for his stage performances on his acoustic tenor. I recall asking him why he didn’t have the techs place the microphone facing the top of the pan where the sound was a lot better. His response was in keeping with the animated “Pro” performance – when he really he gets into a tune he could not help but to vocalize a lot in synch with his performance and he didn’t want his outbursts to be heard over the sound system. What an amazing guy!

Ken “Professor” Philmore
Ken “Professor” Philmore

This year alone we saw the departure of Ellie Mannette, “Professor” and just two nights ago, Kim Loy Wong. Kim’s legacy is documented for all to see in the form of a recording, a book and a 15-minute video on how to make and play the pan all compiled in the early 1960s, long before Stalin sang about the Secret of making Pan, by American Folk Historian Pete Seeger and stored in the archives of the Smithsonian Institute.

   Ken 'Professor' Philmore - You are My Lady
 

“Pro” leaves behind a tremendous legacy of dynamic stage performances and a deep unshakeable love of and commitment to pan and music. As we say in local parlance, when it comes to pan soloists he cut track for ‘gouti to run. If we truly honor that legacy, we who are left behind should make every effort to do all that is necessary to build on the foundation that Ken “Professor” Philmore and other departed steelpan pioneers created. Significantly, the leaders of the steelpan community need to come together to ensure that all aspects of the industry are sustainably developed to its fullest potential. It’s a gift from above but, as the saying goes, you either use it or lose it. If as many have suggested, the leadership issues cannot be reconciled for one reason or the other, then new leaders should come to the fore to take on this challenge. Pan is Trinbagonian by birth but belongs to no one person or institution.

Professor Brian Copeland
Professor Brian Copeland

There is just too much at stake for the infighting and all other debilitating negatives that have been insinuated, unfortunate aspects of our culture it seems, to continue.

On behalf of the UWI community and the PHI development team – and I include here my co-inventors Keith Maynard, Earle Phillip (deceased) and Marcelle Byron - I extend condolences to his family, in particular, his wife and children. May his soul, though sprinkled with Stardust, rest in the peace that awaits us all. Fare thee well Ken “Professor” Philmore.

Professor Brian Copeland
PVC and Campus Principal
The University of the West Indies, St Augustine

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