Hugh Addison was born and grew up in Tuna Puna, a small town on the Caribbean island nation of Trinidad. He went to school in nearby Port of Spain, the capital of the country. Addison’s father was an electrician and guitarist and frequently fixed radios for neighbors. The constant presence of the radios filled the house with music played on the BBC (The British Broadcast Corporation—Trinidad was a British colony at the time). When he was finished working on the radios, his father would frequently get out his guitar and play along with the music.
Addison started out as a guitarist and played with several groups on the island but was discouraged from playing the steel drum. The instrument was looked down upon during the 1950s in Trinidad; it was primarily played by groups of uneducated workers. Neighborhood steel drum groups were found throughout the island and they competed in national competitions that often turned violent. Addison watched the groups perform and got to play on an out-of-tune drum left on the roadside by one of the groups, but he did not devote serious time to the instrument until he was an adult.
Addison came to the United States in 1967 on an athletic scholarship to Tougaloo College on the outskirts of Jackson. He was soon performing calypso music on guitar for his fellow classmates. He later transferred to Jackson State University and became interested in jazz, specifically the music of jazz guitarist Wes Montgomery. Addison formed a group with fellow students to play Montgomery’s music and they performed at the college and at clubs nearby.
In the early 1970s, Addison worked as a full-time musician, performing with a Top 40 club group, The Composers, that toured throughout the country. After the break-up of the band in the mid-1970s, the musician became interested in bringing in the music of his native Trinidad into his next group. He began building and playing steel pan drums and by the late 1970s had a new group, T&T (for “Trinidad and Tobago”) Composers. This group also played the current hits of the day, but Addison played the steel drums in the band, giving the songs a unique Caribbean sound.
In recent years, Addison and his son Damian have been involved in teaching steel drum to local students. In 2000 and 2001 they organized and ran an after-school music program at Hardy Middle School, forming the students into a small steel pan orchestra and teaching them both traditional Trinidadian steel drum songs and arrangements of contemporary pop music. The Addisons are working to expand their teaching efforts through The Steel Pan Sounds of the Caribbean Project, their performance and education program.