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The World

Published on September 28th, 2015 | by David Kalloo

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Farewell Russell Henderson…always the Pan Man

Saturday September 19th the grey clouds cast a sombre tone over London, more so, on a quiet avenue in NW10, the residence of the late Russell Henderson MBE. Inside, family members and close friends paid their respects as his body lay in a crafted wicker coffin.

Outside, mourners gathered and the drums rolled and from the concaves of Nostalgia steel band came How Great thou Art. This was a celebration of Russell’s life and, with the beat of drums and steel pan music calling to the heavens, the sun smiled, it was Russ’s smile. The day belonged to Russell Henderson, just as that historic day in 1964 when Russ claimed the streets of Notting Hill for the people. Russ had weaved the first yarn in the cultural tapestry that was to shape the future for Caribbean people in London.

Russ remained a true ‘Trini to de Bone’ with the old lavay ‘anytime is Trinidad time’ with the cortège leaving the home almost an hour from scheduled. The drums summoned a ‘dudup’ and the symphonic sound of steel pans rang out in fitting tribute as Russ was driven by his son Angus in a Volks Wagon camper van towards Harrow Road crematorium with a glorious white angel carnival costume, a guardian looking after Russ on his journey.

There must have been some moments of nostalgia for some of those attending the funeral with reminiscence of that historic day in 1964 when West Indians, on hearing the sound of steel pan came out and joined Russ as he inaugurated pan into British history. Today, traffic paused and gave way as many reached for their mobile devices to record the event with curiosity.  Those in vehicles alongside or waiting at bus stops or just watching as the procession ‘chipped’ merrily to the to beat of the pans as hundreds of mourners joining along the way on Russ’s final journey.

Russell’s life was celebrated with the same exuberance as he had lived his life, each tribute painting Russ’s glorious and humble persona even in his departure. Family and friends remembered his fondness, his welcoming heart and open house. A quiet, gentle man whose talents helped shaped many musicians in London and those who had journeyed to London from Trinidad and found the generosity of Russell Henderson.

Saturday September 19th was a day of tribute to Russell Henderson MBE. At each stage of a well executed celebration. Just as his house had been a hub for musicians, his farewell celebrations were intrinsically consumed with musical tributes. The echoes of pan and drums may have still been reverberating at Harrow Road crematorium when the church service at St Mary’s of the Angels church was filled with more music in his honour.

Sterling Betencourt’s solo was harmoniously sombre and a hearty rendition of ‘Oh Danny Boy’ by Irving Lynch would have pleased Russ no end. Pan diva Debra Romain and Alexander D Great summed up Russ with their composition of ‘Always the Pan Man’ and Alysha West paid homage to him with a sombre jazz version of ‘What a Wonderful World.’ Father Hugh Logan officiating said, Russell had inspired a generation and it was ‘now in us to call up and from within us, to summon a new vision for the Caribbean community.’ Fitting words for it was through Russ’s inaugural sound of the steel pan not a stone throw away from where Father Logan stood that Notting Hill carnival became indelible into the history of London, through Russell Henderson.

The celebration of this iconic Trinidadian son that changed the course of history in London continued into the late hours of the evening at Tabernacle in Powis Square, amidst the installation of Carl Gabriel’s exhibition, Carnival Garden. It was a true, generous and gratifying celebration of the life of Russ Henderson. You could not help but feel his presence mingling with the crowd in his signature bow tie, his hat cocked to the right and his warm smile that humbly said, ‘I’m here, thank you.’

Russell Audley Ferdinand Henderson

7-January 1924 – 18 August 2015

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