After World War II and the discovery of oil on the Caribbean islands, discarded 55-gallon steel drums once used for storing oil began to appear in Trinidad. Slowly, the art of taking these discarded drums and making them into instruments evolved there, and steel bands formed. Steel bands have always relied on master craftsmen to furnish the instruments needed to create their unique musical sound.
Terrence Cameron was born in Grenada in 1941 and grew up in Trinidad. Exposed to the music of steel drum groups since early childhood, Mr. Cameron became a member of the Bell Boys while in his teens and learned to play the double tenors, the main melodic pan set in a steel orchestra. When he was 17, he joined the Rhapsody Steel Orchestra, whose leader, Stanley Warner, was one of the first great masters of the art of pan-making. Starting in 1958, Mr. Cameron began an informal apprenticeship with him, traveling around Trinidad to make drums on site. This was a time of great innovation and creativity in pan-making. Since that time, Mr. Cameron has continued to learn by experimenting with steel drums and observing the work of other steel drum-makers, although there are very few of them. As a drum-maker, he makes beautiful individual “voices” for each drum and also creates a whole orchestra or ensemble whose voices harmonize perfectly.
In 1963, on Stanley Warner’s recommendation, Mr. Cameron formed his first band, the Sonnets. He established his reputation as a pan-maker and received so many orders for drums that he left the band to produce them full-time, traveling to Tobago, Barbados, and other islands. By then, Mr. Cameron had already developed his own unique sound. In 1970, the Trinidad All-Stars, one of the island’s top steel bands, was about to come to America to play at Madison Square Garden. The band sent Mr. Cameron to America in advance, to make drums and prepare them for the concert. The West Indian community in New York encouraged him to stay and make drums here.
In 1984, Mr. Cameron formed his own band, called the Steel Kings. Nowadays, he continues to make steel drums, and performs year-round as leader of the band. Mr. Cameron has been featured in Folklore Project exhibitions and folk arts education residency programs. He has received fellowships from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, and The Pew Fellowships in the Arts (2000), as well as grants to pass on his art, and has been featured in exhibitions curated by the Pennsylvania Heritage Affairs Commission and the Folklife Center of International House.