NIU Steel Band


A man once described as the “the Stradivarius of the steelpan” and a co-founder of Northern Illinois University’s steelpan program died Tuesday.


A native of Trinidad & Tobago, Clifford Alexis started playing steelpan when he was 14. He was a member of the country's National Steelband when it toured the U.S. in 1964. In 2018, the country gave him its highest honor for his steel pan contributions.  


Jessie Schlacks / WNIJ

NIU held a tribute concert Sunday to honor Cliff Alexis, who joined the university’s school of music in 1985.

Alexis helped establish steelpan studies as a major at NIU. 

He’s originally from the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago; it's where he started playing the steelpan at age 14.

“When I was young, most people gravitate toward the steel pan, especially coming from where I came from," he said. "I came from an underprivileged neighborhood, and that was one of the things to do.”

NIU Steel Band Legends Keep On Inspiring

Apr 13, 2015
Katie Finlon / WNIJ

Cliff Alexis -- co-director of the Northern Illinois University Steel Band -- is considered a living legend within the steel pan world. Before that, he was a six-year-old aspiring pannist in a world that stigmatized pan players as violent gangsters.  

"I fell in love with it from an early age,” Alexis said. “The problem was, we were forbidden to go near those guys, because those guys were considered, you know, bad boys in the neighborhood."  

NIU Steel Band Marks 40 Years Of Growth

Apr 11, 2014
Yuko Asada

From its beginnings as a small band -- without even a lead instrument -- in a corner of the NIU Percussion Studio, the NIU Steel Band has a lot to celebrate from the past 40 years.

The celebration culminates in the band’s 40th anniversary concert Sunday, April 13, in the Boutell Concert Hall of the NIU Music Building.

Steel band co-director Liam Teague said the concert program will reflect the spirit of the band throughout its existence. “It highlights what we’re trying to do in the steel band,” he said. “We’re looking at the past, present and future.”