Lino Hughes playing the keyboards in later years.

 MARIGOT--Tributes will be pouring in today for the birthday of Lino Hughes, leader of the iconic bands “Creole Stars” and “Lino and the Hardway” that dominated the island’s musical scene in the 1970s and 1980s.

  Radio stations will undoubtedly be playing his songs, among them “St. Martin is my home” recorded in 1983, which became one of his biggest hits and cemented his reputation as an outstanding writer, composer and arranger during what was then a golden age for music on the island.

  His music struck a chord with everyone, so much so that his photo appeared in the first edition of the St. Maarten Telephone Directory circa 1955.

  SXM Horizon, Bottleneck Crew, SOS Radio, Radio St. Martin, Youth Radio and others will be among many organising tributes, interviews with the public and reflecting on Lino’s legacy and influence on the youth of today.

  Three of his sisters – Florelle Haarmans, Josiane Hennis and Dora Hughes – described what it was like growing up with a musical prodigy, unbeknownst to them that he would grow up to be such a gifted musician. Lino, the nickname for his real name Lin, was born and grew up in St. James.

~ Sisters reflect on an extraordinary career in music ~

  “Even at five years old in my mother’s house Lino was drawn to the steel pans that my older brothers were playing,” remembers Dora, the eldest sister. “Even then he understood how to keep time with the music. When my brothers saw that, they took him into their band and let him play a two-note pan. Because Lino was short in stature, they had to let him stand on a box to play.”

  Lino would recall in his own memoirs, at the tender age of seven playing the steelpan with the Prickly Boys at the first major hotel in St. Maarten, Little Bay Beach Resort. He would eventually progress years later from leading a steel band to forming an orchestral band which emerged as the Creole Stars. In the meantime, Lino had learnt to play the trumpet, organ, piano and other instruments.

  Creole Stars was created in 1966. Among their gigs, they played at Little Bay hotel on contract from 1968 to 1970.

  “At that time, he had a bigger vision of what he wanted to do,” Dora added. “He would end up playing the keyboards for the rest of his career. Creole Stars was the bomb in those days around the islands and they travelled everywhere. The island could not get enough of the band. … ‘Let’s go with Creole Stars’ was the chant. The band was a huge success.

  “When he left Creole Stars, he formed Lino and the Hardway in 1981.

  “He was born to play music from five years old. It was in his genes. He would even give up his schoolwork for music. He was into his music more than his books. When we went out to work, he would be doing his writing and composing at home for the steel band and Creole Stars.”

  As Hennis pointed out, “Hardway” was spelt as one word on the album covers, but the name of the band actually came from how hard it was to get by in those days, hence the alternative two-word spelling “hard way.”

  “It was a real struggle for the band to get financing and support,” she explained. “Lino had a rare musical ear because he didn’t have the opportunity to get formal music school training. Everything he did was on his own. He wasn’t afraid of hard work and was very humble. And he learnt a lot from his older brothers.”

  Marlene Richardson sang lead vocals and back-up vocals with Lino and the Hardway, joining the band when she was just 17, and remained for about three to four years. She contributed on the albums “Moin crei pom pom” (1981), “Streetfighter” (1982) and “Sakabow” (1983), and remembers the band members: Lino (lead vocal and keyboards), Jack (bass guitar), Evan (lead guitar), Bung (drums), Tom (trombone), Estelle (trumpet), Austin (drums), Ramon (keyboards, Rat (cow bell) and Wendy (backing vocals).

  “St. Martin is my home” was one of the greatest songs he wrote, so powerful, and it still sounds as if it had just been created today. I would like radio stations to play it more,” she said. “I remember Lino asking my mother permission for me to join the band. He used to pick me up for rehearsals. I really enjoyed working with those musicians. Those boys would have my back. If anyone came to trouble me, they would put that person in his place.”

  Paul Whit, former district representative in St. James, said it is highly likely there will be a continuing debate in the future over whether “St. Martin is my home” could be acknowledged as a national anthem.

  “There’s also discussion for November 11 on acknowledging Lino as one of our heroes who did great things for the island,” said Whit. “It’s an honour for us to pay our tributes to him today.”