Dr. Clifford Alexis was a virtuoso musician and composer, an innovative steelpan builder and tuner, a brilliant educator, and mentor and friend to people all over the world. Cliff first came to the U.S. in 1964 as a member of the National Steelband of Trinidad and Tobago. He performed all over the world with this group and as leader of his own groups, and then taught for 12 years in the St. Paul, Minnesota public schools, and 27 years at Northern Illinois University. He received an Honorary Doctorate Degree from NIU and the Chaconia Silver National Award from Trinidad and Tobago.
This is special episode of Art Lives. It is part of a 2008 interview presented now to honor Cliff, who passed away on Tuesday, January 29 at age 82.
People have shared incredible stories this week about Cliff, what he taught them, how he cared for them and how he changed their lives. He was dedicated to his family, yet somehow took care of countless others.
In the 1980s and 90s there was a lot of misinformation in the United States about the origins of the steel pan in Trinidad & Tobago, where Cliff was born. Many first and second generation steelpannists did not speak about their shared history, Cliff included. Finally, in the early 2000s, more players and pan builders agreed to speak on the record, including Cliff. (My doctoral research was inspired by Cliff’s pan story, and this interview, as well as other introductions he made, enabled my entire project.)
Cliff has said some of this information in other interviews, but he includes some wonderful details here, including Cliff’s touring years in the 1970s, and how he learned to love teaching. You will hear passion, honesty and comedy in this interview. I think friends, family and new listeners alike will enjoy hearing him talk about his remarkable life.