Russell Henderson

Learn about the life of Russell Henderson

Amer(Cen) W. Indies Trinidad And TobagoLIFE Photo Collection

Who is Russell Henderson?

Russell Henderson was born in Belmont, Port-of-Spain, where he grew up. He founded the Russell Henderson Quartet in the 1940s and was soon well known in Trinidad, accompanying calypsonians such as Lord Pretender, Mighty Growler and Roaring Lion.

Russell Henderson by UnknownNotting Hill Carnival

He was also pianist for Beryl McBurnie's dance troupe at the Little Carib Theatre in Woodbrook, and taught melodies to the steelpan pioneer Ellie Mannette of Invaders Steelband.

Russell Henderson by UnknownNotting Hill Carnival

In 1951, Henderson travelled to England to study piano tuning at the North London Polytechnic. He settled in England and founded Britain's first steelband combo (The Russ Henderson Steel Band) with Mervyn Constantine and Sterling Betancourt in late 1952.

Sterling Betancourt by UnknownNotting Hill Carnival

They played their first gig at The Sunset Club at 50 Carnaby Street. Other compatriots Henderson worked with in the early London days were calypsonians Lord Kitchener and Young Tiger. 

From 1962, Henderson began playing on Sunday lunchtimes at the Coleherne pub on Old Brompton Road, Earls Court, where he was joined by other West Indian jazz musicians including Joe Harriott and Shake Keane. 

Russell Henderson by UnknownNotting Hill Carnival

Henderson was vitally involved in building up Notting Hill Carnival, having played at the first Children's Carnival there in 1964. In 1966, a street party for neighbourhood children turned into a carnival procession when Henderson decided to liven things up by leading his steel band down the street, followed by a growing crowd.

Henderson continued to spearhead the spread of steel pan in the UK, seeing it implemented in schools as well as community workshops. Being based in Kensal Rise, Henderson's home was known to be a music base for many. 

As a result, Russell Henderson was awarded an MBE in 2006 for his services to music and in 2012 was honoured with a blue plaque on Tavistock Square for his contribution to Notting Hill Carnival.

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