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.”
Alexis arranged, composed and co-directed the NIU Steelband with Al O'Connor and, later, Liam Teague. He will stay close to the university as a volunteer.
Alexis previously taught at St. Paul Public Schools for 12 years. He's performed worldwide and taken home numerous awards and distinctions, including the prestigious Minneapolis/St. Paul "Outstanding Black Musician" award.
Before the concert Sunday, Alexis said the reality of retirement is sinking in.
“The more that I walk around, it becomes more relevant that this is something huge," he said. "I was downplaying it all the time."
Alexis says his future hopes are to see the NIU Steelband continue to progress and grow and "turn a lot of pan players to the world."
Graduate Yuko Asada will take over Alexis's role with the band.
Alexis will receive an honorary doctoral degree at NIU's commencement ceremonies May 12.