Anthony Williams is a scientist of the Steelpan whose innovations transformed the rhythm of the old Ping Pong pan into the percussion instrument now hailed as the only one invented in the 20th century. Among pan pioneers he stands tall for the revolutionary impact of his inventions on the development of the Steelpan and the Steelband.
Anthony Williams was a little boy growing up in St James when he discovered that he could beat four notes out of a biscuit pan to get the tune of Mary Had A Little Lamb and even more notes from sweet oil tin. His next major breakthrough came at the age of 15. While others dismissed the idea, he was convinced he could do something with oil drums discarded by the US Navy. He was right. Better tone and more space to add notes were his rewards.
By 1950, with oil drums becoming the norm among Ping Pong bands, an era of experimentation began in which Anthony Williams a clear leader— experimenting, observing, analysing and problem was solving. By 1952, other Williams innovations were being showcased in his new band, North Stars, which had evolved out of Sun Valley with Anthony Williams as its leader. The innovations were that of a mind on the cutting edge of Steelpan technology: the Double Strumming Pan had emerged to replace the Alto Pong and, to solve the problem of weight and mobility, the Double Pans were on wooden stands, the Double Cello had legs and the Ping Pong were on metal stands instead of the old neck strap. Two years later, he put both Pan and stand on wheels, making the bands more mobile.
In 1956, he presented his most revolutionary invention of all in his design and note-placement of the “Spider Pan” which opened up a world of new possibilities for Steelband music. Years of quiet research had led him to a mathematical formula in which each ascending note was precisely one eighth of an inch smaller than the preceding note. Out of this research came the “fourths and fifths” Tenor Pan, which is recognised today as the international standard for the tenor and many other steelband instruments. Anthony Williams never stopped experimenting with the Steelpan.
In his search for more perfect working material, he invented a Pan mould from metal sheets welded to a skirt. In the competitive arena, he led North Stars to victory in the first two Panorama competitions
(1963, 1964). For his contribution to the development of the Steelpan, In 2008, Anthony Williams was honoured with the nation’s highest honour, the Order of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago.