We were deeply saddened by the news of Ellie Mannette’s passing on August 29th, 2018 in Morgantown, WV.
Elliot “Ellie” Mannette is widely regarded as the father of the modern steel pan. Without him, there may have never been a refined steel pan, handpan, hang or pantam.
Born, November 5th, 1927, Ellie spent most of his life refining and developing the oil drum into a musical instrument. When Mark Garner met him in 2012, Ellie said “I wanted to be able to play Mary had a little lamb or any other song on the steel pan”. Those earliest instruments were tuned by ear while being shaped in the mosquito filled swamps of Trinidad. The following image is an early photograph of young Ellie and the Oval Boys at work in 1944. (Photo Courtesy of the endless talented Andy Narell)
Ellie first came to the USA in the early 1960’s and spent the rest of his life building several hundred steel bands all over the country for universities, professional players and private collectors.
The first steel pan crafted by Ellie that Saraz Founder Mark Garner played was owned by Dennis Martin, a long time friend and student of Ellie’s, who also started the company, Rhythmical Steel. The instrument, crafted in the late 1980’s, was the first steel pan that Ellie had tuned second octave shoulder tones on each note. Mark has said “the beauty and magnificence of the instrument literally brought tears to my eyes”.
After traveling all over the country building instruments for different universities, Ellie was invited by West Virginia University in 1991 to teach. He accepted their offer and also eventually created the company Mannette Steel Drums in Morgantown, WV where his legacy is still carried on today.
Mark was deeply honored to spend time with Ellie and watch over his shoulder while he tuned a lead pan in 2012. Even at the age of 85, he was an absolute fire ball that was still endlessly passionate about singing steel. In the following photo, Mark is introducing Ellie to the Halo Handpan, crafted by Pantheon Steel. The building style and design was unlike anything Ellie had ever seen before on singing steel. Mark has said “the experience felt like bringing one of Ellie’s grand children to meet him for the first time”. Ellie taught Mark a few fine tuning tricks that he has used on every Saraz Handpan and taught numerous other tuners.
Ellie worked tirelessly in his early days to develop a chromatic set of steel pans. His work has continued to be an enormous inspiration since Mark’s earliest days of hammering. Like Ellie’s desire to develop the steel pan band, we are excited to continue develoing the handpan into a chromatic professional array of instruments that can be played on any song and in any Genre of music as well as enter academic and university music programs so the professionals of tomorrow can continue to develop this young instrument and explore its possibilities.
“I always knew in my heart one day that my work would find its way. I could not tell you how. There was no one there for me, to show the way, but I figured it out. I figured it all through for all of you to see today.”
“Looking back more than half a century during my humble beginnings in this unique art form, no one during that period could have envisioned the rapid growth of this instrument. Through the years as I developed my skills, my entire mindset was sharing my knowledge with others for the betterment of this instrument.”
Rest in peace dearest Sir Ellie. You will be remembered and revered until our final breaths.