Trinidadian Trailblazer of Caribbean culture, died on July 23, 2015

Trinidadian Trailblazer of Caribbean culture, died on July 23, 2015

Cambridge arts community mourns the passing of a trailblazer of Caribbean culture in New England and Caribbean.

  • Posted on: 1 September 2015
  • By: lynette



Mc Donald Peter John Burnette known  locally as MACKIE BURNETTE, was born Dec 8, 1933 and died in July 23, 2015.
Despite being afflicted with polio at age 11 which plagued him throughout his life he was able to follow his passion as a pan musician and drummer. His indomitable spirit took him from being raised and educated in Trinidad to performing and teaching pan in Jamaica, Antigua,Barbados,Mexico, Lagos Nigeria and Cayman Islands  (as well as aboard the SS Starward which visited Florida, Haiti, and Jamaica) before settling in Cambridge, MA in 1988.
His enthusiasm and passion for music,the arts and Caribbean culture, as well as love for people,is largely responsible for promulgating the pan in the college arena in New England as well as in high schools both in the Boston area and Providence RI shortly after arriving in 1988.
 In the last two years of his life while recently recuperating at his rehab centre he performed for the other patients there. 

Being a trail blazer steel pan-enthusiast,and  having a heart for cultural enrichment, and development, Mackie seized every opportunity open to him to introduce Caribbean rhythms to the public .When  he was not teaching as professor in the academy doing workshops with High schoolers or artists -(The Art of Black Dance and Music and  Ibrahima's World Beat Orchestra) he would busk on the street with his steel pan to introduce the Boston public to the then unfamiliar musical instrument in the inner city of Boston. These side walk adventures often resulted in his being booked for paying gigs. He utilized what is now known as 'guerrilla marketing' long before it was widely known, to his best advantage.
He was respected and revered by artists and students at the colleges and universities where he taught (Tufts University, Boston, MIT, Cambridge, Brown university and more and in Providence, RI High schools). Up and coming drummers in the Boston area, looked to him for mentorship.
 Although Boston Steel bands -Branches Steel Band and Metro Steel orchestra,had already been formed they did not market the way Mackie knew how to, or leveraged their contacts the way he cleverly did with his contacts, neither did they venture out in unfamiliar territory. Branches Steel band was first introduced to Boston university's annual International Festival by myself as booking agent for Caribbean artistes back in late 80s. No doubt that Mackie's ingenuity at marketing and networking had something to do with creating pan-awareness in the college environment, including Berklee College of Music. He accomplished this with with his mesmerising abandon during his street and stage presentations on his assortment of percussive instruments, drums and steel pans. He was equally adept on both types of instruments and had already completed a tour, on a cruise ship  SS Starward visiting other countries as a pan artist and drummer. He received awards for his dexterity and virtuosity on both instruments. (Gold medal in drumming, Jamaica, and Jamaica's centenary award for contribution to cultural development.)
Being a consummate arts entrepreneur he was able to galvanize the  interest, support and cooperation of many artists at short notice with a no nonsense attitude of getting show- business done,  and to provide them with  paying work for any gig that he had lined up.

I had the privilege of working with him on varied occasions, in outdoor events, in my role as co-founder/organizer of the Cambridge carnival  in early 90s and booked him into a private gig at some point. His inimitable style commanded respect while he freely gave respect and support. 
He quickly became a familiar sight at the annual Cambridge River festival and the Lowell Arts festival as he and his  curious assortment of percussive instruments rode by on a truck, with him in the centre of it all dedicatedly playing away to his heart's delight, purpose and mission. 
He brought joy and camaraderie to all who heard his music or who interacted with him, as he was able to switch his melodious Trini and Jamaican accents to please and delight his audiences.
That was a long time ago, Mackie has now fulfilled his purpose and mission and now called to heaven to give his report to his Creator. 
His memory and legacy will live on because of his selfless contribution  to the arts, cultural development in New England and  elsewhere and to the development and cultural enrichment of humanity.
It is fitting that we pay homage to Mr Burnette, musician,  performer, educator, friend and mentor to artists, at his passing.
Mackie's tireless efforts at motivating, encouraging and inspiring others for over fifty years, whether on stage, in a parade or in the classroom is truly appreciated by us all. Those of us who knew him intimately, recognise that his life was the embodiment of his divine purpose i.e. making music, teaching music and leading and guiding youth to finding their path. Here's to hoping that we each can accomplish as much of our purpose and mission as Mackie did, despite his being afflicted with polio from childhood, and throughout his 81+ years of life. 
He was a true T&T trailblazer and an admirable human being.  We thank him for his passion and his legacy. May his soul rest in Peace.
A memorial celebration was held on Sunday Aug 30, 2015 in Cambridge. For more information please contact the author at email given below.

Lynette Laveau Saxe
Certified Transformational Success Coach
Host/Producer: The Callalloo Express TV show-Be Live
Host/Producer Callalloo Relationships - WCCR
CCTV Cambridge Ch 9