Len “Boogsie” Sharpe was a child prodigy of the steelpan who actualized his gifts for composing, arranging and performing through the steelband, adding new dimensions to the music.
Born on Benares Street, St James, to a Jamaican father and Trinidadian mother, Boogsie, as he is popularly called, started playing pan at the age of four in the yard of Cross-fire Steelband, where he practically grew up. He was 10 when he crafted his first arrangement for a steelband. The piece, “Theme from the Sons of Katie Elder”, was performed at the Christmas concert of his school Woodbrook Presbyterian.
His life since then has been devoted to the creation and performance of music on this instrument. As a teenager, he joined the mother-band of west Port of Spain, Invaders, which he would leave to team up with visionary composer Ray Holman in Starlift Steelband. Alongside Holman, Sharpe acquired sufficient competence and confidence to launch out on his own. In 1972, he formed Phase II Pan Groove, the band that continues to give breath to Sharpe’s innate and urgent talent.
Sharpe remains the premier example of a musical genius in the post-Independence era of the steelband movement. Without reading a note of music, he has been able to compose complex melodies and arrangements that have taken Phase II into the winners’ circle of the Panorama competition. Phase II has emerged champions six times, run second 11 times and third five times — a total of 22 times in the top three.
Among his most memorable Panorama compositions were “I Music” (1984), “Musical Wine” (1985), “Pan Rising” (1986), “Dis Feeling Nice” (1987), “Woman is Boss” (1988) and“ Birthday Party” (1993).
He is also in high demand as an arranger for other bands, many of which make it all the way to the top, sometimes competing with each other. In 1987, his arrangements won the north, south and Tobago zones, the Pan-Round-The Neck competition and the national finals.
Outside of the Carnival arena, he composes on original Caribbean themes for the Steelband Music Festival. These full-blown orchestral narratives include “The Saga of San Fernando Hill”, “The Three Seasons”, “Faces” and “Rain Forest”. Blessed with perfect pitch, Boogsie is a virtuoso player with a gift for improvising. He plays every instrument in the steelband, but his successful international solo career is built on the double-seconds, which have sparkled in many a jazz ensemble. In 2009, he received the Hummingbird Medal (Gold).