Front Cover
Univ. Press of Mississippi, 2017
“Maybe you won't like steel band. It's possible. But it's been said that the Pied Piper had a steel band helping him on his famous visit to Hamelin.” When the US Navy distributed this press release, anxieties and tensions of the impending Cold War felt palpable. As President Eisenhower cast his gaze towards Russia, the American people cast their ears to the Atlantic South, infatuated with the international currents of Caribbean music. Today, steelbands have become a global phenomenon; yet, in 1957 the exotic sound and the unique image of the US Navy Steel Band was one-of-a-kind. Could calypso doom rock 'n' roll? Band founder Admiral Daniel V. Gallery thought so and envisioned his steelband knocking “rock 'n' roll and Elvis Presley into the ash can.”

From 1957 until their disbandment in 1999, the US Navy Steel Band performed over 20,000 concerts worldwide. In 1973, the band officially moved headquarters from Puerto Rico to New Orleans and found the city and annual Mardi Gras tradition an apt musical and cultural fit. The band brought a significant piece of Caribbean artistic capital—calypso and steelband music—to the American mainstream. Its impact on the growth and development of steelpan music in America is enormous.

Steelpan Ambassadors uncovers the lost history of the US Navy Steel Band and provides an in-depth study of its role in the development of the US military's public relations, its promotion of goodwill, its recruitment efforts after the Korean and Vietnam Wars, its musical and technological innovations, and its percussive propulsion of the American fascination with Latin and Caribbean music over the past century.