If one were to compile a list of early important steel panists active in creating a steel pan scene in America, important names the likes of Ellie Mannette, Rudy King, Cliff Alexis, and Andy Narell are sure to be included. However, it may surprise many that missing from this list is arguably the most important—and certainly the most dynamic—American steel pan pioneer: Admiral Daniel Gallery. With steel pan roots that connect such icons as Ellie Mannette, Al O’Connor, and singer Harry Belafonte, Gallery’s contributions to the early development of steel pan in America laid the foundation for future generations of steel panists.
Admiral Gallery was a classic American war hero with impeccable character, sharp wit, and plenty of can-do spirit. He was an accomplished officer and his military honors are many; most notably his capture of the German submarine U-505 in 1944—the first such American capture of an enemy vessel since the early 1800s. A true renaissance man, Gallery was well-versed in the arts, an avid reader, an accomplished athlete (he competed on the United States Olympic team as a wrestler during the 1920 Games held in Antwerp, Belgium), and a writer with eight books and countless newspaper articles to his credit. The Admiral was also single-handedly responsible for starting and fostering the first youth baseball leagues in Puerto Rico which have since led to the development of numerous professionals including Roberto Alomar and Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez. Despite the aforementioned achievements and Gallery’s command of an area encompassing the Caribbean Sea and Atlantic Ocean (Tenth Naval District), the Admiral grudgingly acknowledges a notoriety forever linked with Trinidad’s National instrument.
I never heard of the steel drum until I was in Trinidad at Carnival time in 1957, and when I heard hundreds of them in the fabulous Carnival parade. The music just got inside me and shook me up. I bought a whole set of steel drums, and when I got to San Juan I sent for the leader of my official navy band, Chief Musician Charles A. Roeper, and told him I wanted to teach his boys how to play them…During my forty-three years of active duty in the Navy, I had a hand in a lot of things for which one might think I would be remembered, such as inventing new ordnance devices, flying jet airplane, and capturing a German Submarine. I have also written three books and a lot of articles and short stories for the Saturday Evening Post,Reader’s Digest, and other national magazines. But if you ask any captain or admiral on active duty now, “do you know Dan Gallery?” the chances are he will say, “Sure. He’s the guy who started that steel band in San Juan.”
Gallery, like many Americans, was entranced by the melody and lyricism of Harry Belafonte’s 1956 Calypso album; however, Gallery was an ambitious well-connected man and his interest in calypso resulted in the formation of a steel band comprised of naval musicians at his base in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Unlike most Americans in the 1950s, Gallery actually attended Carnival in Trinidad (in both 1955 and 1957) and was spellbound by the spirit, music, and sound of the steel bands. Moreover, so profound was his Carnival experience that it served as the driving force for Gallery’s steel band obsession.
In February of 1957, Gallery ordered a set of steel drums from Ellie Mannette in Port of Spain, and had the instruments (and later Mannette himself) shipped to San Juan. The first musicians of the US Navy Steel Band were actually traditional navy musicians (players of trombones, flute, etc.) stationed in San Juan until Gallery ordered these base musicians to surrender their normal instruments and learn to play steel drums. Gallery’s flag rank made him a US diplomat and he often hosted foreign dignitaries, military officers, and political officials in San Juan using steel band as the showcase entertainment. According to former US Navy Steel Band member Franz Grissom “it must have been strange for Caribbean diplomats to hear steel pan at a meeting with the US Navy.”
The US Navy Steel Band toured the Caribbean and United States extensively and gave performances at the White House and on national variety television shows, including The Ed Sullivan Showin 1958 and 1959. The group also performed at the 1958 World’s Fair held in Brussels and toured Latin America in 1960 under orders from President Eisenhower and the US State department. Gallery was a public relations genius and he considered the US Navy Steel Band an indispensable tool for recruiting new sailors. The group, which moved to New Orleans in 1972 and later disbandment in 1999, brought the cultural capital of the Caribbean—steel pan music and the Limbo—to the fore of the American cultural mainstream.
Gallery influence seemingly touched all aspects of steel band in American, and, for example, with Gallery’s help Ellie Mannette was able to secure a special H1 artist’s visa in 1961 which meant he could freely work in the United States and enabled his permanent immigration in 1967. However, Gallery’s impact on the growth and development of steel pan in America can best be seen in the activity of the US Navy Steel Band. From his founding leadership the group gave approximately 30,000 performances world-wide, recorded seven albums, and performed on numerous television shows and three feature films. In all, the US Navy Steel Band reached an audience that ranged into the millions. Moreover, the residual impact of Gallery and the US Navy Steel Band is witnessed by the countless individuals who, inspired by the group, formed steel bands across America (Northern Illinois University and the University of North Texas for example), many of which still play steel band arrangements created by US Navy Steel Band member Franz Grissom.
Gallery commanded his Caribbean post from December 1956 until July 1960 when, battling the early stages of cancer, he retired from the Navy. Gallery was a man of unrelenting energy, and in his short time in Puerto Rico the Admiral was able to forever shape the course of the steel band movement in America. His energy and enthusiasm for life, music, and Carnival are hallmarks of early American steel pan pioneers. Beyond his contributions to steel pan in America, Gallery can be credited with changing perceptions of Caribbean music throughout the American cultural mainstream. Gallery was bitten by the “pan jumbie” and the Admiral excitedly told a colleague in 1957:
“I’ve got something down hear [Puerto Rico] that is really terrific! The thing has such tremendous possibilities that my mind boggles when I start thinking about it. It’s musical business, which might knock Rock n Roll, and Elvis Presley into the ash can (where they belong). It’s a steel band. . . . Last February  I was in Trinidad at Carnival time. I had never even heard of a steel band up to that time. I heard several hundred of them play then and I’ll never be the same again. They [steel bands] do things to you that are immoral, illegal, and unconstitutional.”