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Published on October 13th, 2015 | by Nicole Rachelle Moore and Haroun N Shah0
Family, Friends and Fans Bid Farewell to Music Legend, Russ Henderson MBE
That September 19th in London turned out to be a beautiful, sunny Saturday was entirely fitting to the many scores of people who turned out to attend the funeral and celebrate the life of Russell Audley Ferdinand Henderson MBE who passed away on 18th August 2015 at the age of 91. “He really deserved this good weather” remarked a smartly attired lady in the red, black and white palette of Russ’ native Trinidad and Tobago. It could only ever have been a music-filled event and so a steelpan “round the neck” procession, with all the players in the national colours of his homeland, accompanied the cortège from Henderson’s home in North West London to the West London Crematorium.
Steelbands are known to be fiercely competitive and at times fraught with acrimony, but for this day, pan players came together and performed as one group. The merged Nostalgia – Pan Nectar steelband of 25 players plus others from various parts of the UK and the Continent, brought their steelpans and drums to play ‘Doh Stop the Carnival’ and ‘When the Saints Go Marching In’ as the ‘hearse’, a brightly decorated Volkswagen camper van, driven by Russ’ two sons, Angus and Pablo, made its way to the farewell service.
Cyril Khamai – ‘The Scratcher Man’
Just prior to the band’s departure from Russ’ home at 10am, artistic designers, engineers and masquerade entrepreneurs, Clary Salandy and Michael ‘Speedy’ Ramdeen of ‘Mahogany Carnival Design’, arrived with a magnificent, delicate and celestial mas figure of a 12 ft. tall by 10 ft. wide ‘White Angel’ – as though a towering angelic body had descended from the heavens to escort this great man on his final journey. Throughout the procession, the ‘White Angel’ gracefully kept up with the musicians and the growing crowd that swelled, as they meandered along the road to the bewilderment of onlookers. When the procession reached the crematorium, the heavenly figure sat triumphantly on the bright green lawn in front of the crematorium, while the steelband gave praise for Russ’ life and touched the hearts of all with an impassioned rendition of ‘How Great Thou Art’.
Angus Henderson, one of Russell’s three children, gave a eulogy in which he spoke movingly, and with gentle humour at times, of his father whose life he described as “a long, musical journey.” He ended by quoting one of Henderson’s oft-repeated phrases: “Fire one and enjoy!” There was also warm tribute paid by Steve Rubie, Russ’ close friend and the proprietor of ‘606 Club’, the renowned jazz joint in London where the well-loved musician played a regular monthly gig for decades. Live music inside the crematorium’s packed chapel (with at least one hundred people in attendance outside) was performed by Henderson’s 606 Club collaborators, Derek Gayle and Mick Hutton, who played ‘Robin’s Nest’, Russ’ signature tune. Russ’ grandchildren paid their tribute in music and poetry before the service ended. Father Hugh Logan, the officiating celebrant delivered his final farewell.
A fitting memorial service followed at St. Mary’s of The Angels Church in Ladbroke Grove where, once again, a steady mix of family, friends and fans remembered the Notting Hill Carnival pioneer, the pan man, the pianist, the proud “Trini”, the teacher and above all the man they knew and loved. He was cherished by all who knew him for his abundant generosity, humour, intelligence and kindness and naturally, for his vast musical knowledge and prowess. One of Russ Henderson’s oldest friends, Hugo Gunning, shared numerous memories and remarked to the large congregation gathered that “We have lost our own Wikipedia…I don’t think Trinidad is really aware of how great he was. He gave dignity to our people in his gentle, quiet way.” Gunning conducted the congregation in a rousing chorus of ‘When the Saints Go Marching In’ to end his “Sweet Words” eulogy.
There was of course more delightful music, with a dulcet recital of ‘What a Wonderful World’ by the vocalist Elysha West, who had tenderly sung ‘God Bless the Child’ during the earlier farewell service. Elysha was appropriately accompanied on guitar by Henderson’s godson, Keefe West,. Calypsonian, Alexander-D-Great, strummed on guitar along with pannist, Debra Romain, to an emotive performance of ‘Russell Henderson Always the Pan Man’, which they wrote and arranged in the wake of Russ’ passing, as testimony to this great man’s unique character, heritage and legacy.
Pan legend, Sterling Betancourt, (who along with Ralph Cherrie and Russell Henderson formed the original Notting Hill “taking it to the streets” three-piece steel band in 1966) played a solo medley of ‘Take it to the Lord in Prayer’ and ‘Sweet Chariot’, which elicited a lengthy round of applause. Another pan comrade and close friend, Irving Lynch, also paid his percussive respects with an intricate version of the beloved Irish ballad, ‘Danny Boy’. The St Ignatius Caribbean Choir sang a soothing rendition of ‘The Lord’s My Shepherd’, accompanied by gentle acoustic guitar.
Father Hugh Logan delivered an expressive and robust homily at St. Mary’s of The Angels, telling those gathered that Russell Henderson had etched “passion, creativity and vision in our minds, our souls…” Logan added that “We cannot wait until we die to make heaven come alive”. Inevitably, he too was touched by the power of music during the service, and so ended his sermon by singing the children’s song ‘The Time to be Happy is Now’.
The final part of this incredible day culminated with a celebration of Russell Henderson’s musical genius at the Carnival Village Tabernacle. All forms of music that Russ contributed to and loved so dearly such as jazz, calypso and steelpan were performed between 2pm and 7.15pm. Russ’s fellow jazz musician, Mick Hutton, of London’s 606 Jazz Club (who also wrote his Obituary in the Independent new paper; 15th Sept. 2015) assembled a jazz trio with Derek Gayle and Jim Mullen and embarked on this part of the programme with soft, intricate and immensely absorbing music. They played ‘At The Mambo Inn’, Goodbait’s, ‘I Fall In Love Too Easily’, ‘Jitterbug Waltz’, ‘Fungi Mama’ and Chittlin’s ‘Con Carne’. Following this, Mark Cherrie (on pan), Tim Capstick (on guitar), Derek Gayle and Mick Hutton played; ‘Meditation’, ‘Little Wing’, ‘Black Orpheus’. Daniel Louis (on double tenor) then joined in the hour-long scintillating session, while food and drink (including Russ’s well-known ‘rum punch’) were served. Mick Hutton and Derek Gayle then teamed up with Keefe West (on guitar) to support Elysha West’s colorful interpretation and vibrant rendition of ‘Moon Dance’, ‘Ain’t No Sunshine and ‘Unchain My Heart’, which utterly thrilled the audience.
The baton was then passed over to calypsonians, Alexander-D-Great, Tobago Crusoe and D’ Alberto, three towering masters of their craft who occupied the stage simultaneously. They received rapturous rounds of appreciation from onlookers as they stirred between familiar calypso classics such as ‘Melda’ to their own compositions. This culminated with Alexander-D-Great’s tribute to Russ titled “Always the Panman” which this time was supported by pan musicians from Ebony, Mangrove and St Michaels and All Angels. This part of the celebration of Russ’ life would have pleased him immensely because of his desire for British steelbands to play compositions written by local calypsonians. This then set the stage for the arrival of the steelbands; the first being St Michaels & All Angels Steelband’s tumultuous entry with four powerful pieces selected specifically by their arranger, Freddy Totesaut, that had poignant significance for his dear friend, Russ Henderson. These were ‘ Bees Melody’, ‘Tico Tico’, ‘For Once in My Life’ and their Notting Hill Carnival 2015 competition piece, ‘Happy Wonderer’. This ushered in the 2015 Panorama Champions, ‘Ebony’ who sent the audience into a frenzy with an exhilarating performance of ‘Pan in A Minor’. Ebony was then joined by pannists from ‘Metronomes’, ‘CSI’, ‘Mangrove’ and ‘Nostalgia’ who played a delightful medley of calypso classics as a composite band.
London has never witnessed such a spontaneous outpouring of sentiment and celebration for one of its Caribbean sons and gives a measure of the high esteem, respect and love that was held for this legendary gentle and unassuming man. Russ believed passionately in the holistic preservation of carnival and would have been ecstatic to have known that his farewell encompassed representation from the UK’s foremost mas, calypso and steelbands; all of whom gave their hearts and souls to make Saturday 19th September such a memorable and historic send-off for a man who anthropomorphised the very best of the Caribbean community.
Follow link below to see photos of this non forgettable send off for a Caribbean son:
Nicole-Rachelle Moore and Haroun N. Shah