Cliff Alexis - Director, NIU STEEL Band Studies

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Cliff Alexis was born in the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago in 1937.  He began playing steelpan at age 14 in various steelbands in St. James/Woodbrook area.  From 1951 to 1964, Alexis performed in steelbands such as Trinidad Triopoli, Stereo-Phonics, Invaders and Hit Paraders, and arranged for Trinidad Tripoli, Stereo-Phonics and Joylanders.  In 1964, Alexis traveled to the United States as a member of the National Steelband of Trinidad and Tobago. He toured the Caribbean, South America, Africa, Europe and the United States with the ensemble including command performances for Queen Elizabeth II, Princess Margaret, Princess Alice the Duke of Edinburgh; Prince Phillip, Emperor of Ethiopia, Haile Selassie I; and the President Senghor of Senegal. 

After the tour, Alexis moved to the US in 1965.  In Brooklyn, NY, he arranged for BWIA Sunjets, arranged and performed with his own band called Cliff Alexis Trinidad Troubadours. He traveled throughout the US with his band until 1973.

Alexis was employed by St. Paul Public School District 625 in the state of Minnesota for 12 years, where he served his role as a steelband director and tuner.  On two occasions, Alexis received the prestigious Minneapolis/St. Paul "Outstanding Black Musician" award. 

In 1985, he joined the staff of the Northern Illinois University School of Music.  He, along with Al O’Connor, created steelpan studies program where students could major in steelpan as a primary instrument.  His responsibilities included maintaining and upgrading the school's large inventory of steel pans, arranging, composing and co-directing the NIU Steelband with Liam Teague.

Alexis was commissioned by the Percussive Arts Society to compose and arrange all of the music for the mass steelband concert organized for the 1987 Percussive Arts Society International Convention (PASIC) in St. Louis.  In 2000, Alexis composed “Pan 2000”- one of two pieces performed by the NIU Steelband at the World Steelband Music Festival in Trinidad. The ensemble achieved second place in the competition.

He has been the recipient of numerous awards from the Percussive Arts Society, Pan Trinbago, Trinidad and Tobago Folk Arts Institute, Northern Illinois University and others. In addition, he has been inducted into the Sunshine Hall of Fame with a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2002.  In 2011, Alexis was featured in the film entitled “Hammer and Steel” produced by the University of Akron and Public Broadcasting System (PBS). 

Alexis is also in high demand as a speaker, clinician and tuner.  He has worked for various school systems and organizations throughout the world.  He lectured at the National Public Library in Trinidad, delivered the feature address at the launch of the Pan Development Fund at the Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago’s residence, and was a featured guest speaker at the University of Akron Steelband’s 30th Anniversary Celebration and the Silver Stars Steel Orchestra 60th Anniversary. In 2010, Alexis was featured as a guest clinician and an adjudicator at the 8th Annual PANorama Caribbean Festival held in Virginia.  In April 2011, Alexis was featured as a clinician and performer at Humboldt State University Steelband’s 25th anniversary concert.  In May 2012, Alexis was selected to be the keynote speaker for the first International Steelpan Conference held in the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago.  Also, in May 2012, Alexis was nominated by the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences for two categories, Special Event Coverage and Musical Composition/Arrangement. 

In November, 2013, Alexis was inducted into the Percussive Arts Society Hall of Fame.  And in March 2014, he was honored by Pan Trinbago at Panorama finals for his distinguished service to the steelpan movement.