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Steel Pan Drums and Tennis: The Double Life of Brooklyn's Adrian Clarke

The director of the Prospect Park Tennis Center loves playing steel pan drums, a call back to his Caribbean childhood.
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Adrian Clarke. Photo: Katey St. John for BK Reader.

Growing up in Barbados, Adrian Clarke surrounded himself with two things: tennis and music. When he moved to Brooklyn in 1973 as a young adult, he took his two passions with him.

The 67-year-old East Flatbush local now works as the director of the Prospect Park Tennis Center by day. But by night, he’s a steel pan drum player.

“When you're playing music, usually everyone is smiling,” Clarke said. “You usually bring joy to a lot of people, and that's the best part of it.”

Long before learning to play steel pan, Clarke began playing tennis in Barbados at the age of 12 and went on to play professionally, competing in the 1983 U.S. Open qualifying rounds.  

“I wasn't that much into school, but I needed something to be focused on. And tennis became that thing,” Clarke said.

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Adrian Clarke. Photo: Katey St. John for BK Reader.

During a tennis tournament in Trinidad, he attended Panorama, a yearly steel pan competition. He spent his childhood listening to calypso music and watching the performers in Panorama left him inspired to play the steel pan drums himself, he said.

“I always loved the instrument,” Clarke said. “Just looking at it would excite me.”

After purchasing a steel pan drum set, he practiced diligently to learn the music. Now, he plays gigs all around New York City. 

On Nov 17, Clarke played a show at Flushing Town Hall with bass player Hilliard Greene and keyboardist Richard Henry. That night, the room was full of people eager to listen to the classic and contemporary sounds of Barbados.

Clark's two passions play a huge role in his life, and often their significance overlaps, the Brooklynite said.

“You’re bringing joy to people when you're playing music,” he said.  “When you're teaching tennis to people, you’re also bringing something to them that they really need.”


Katey St. John

About the Author: Katey St. John

Katey St John is a journalist, documentary filmmaker, activist, and baker whose passions lie where food and sustainability intersect.
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