Gene Steede is my father. I don’t share any genes with him, per se, but he was the man who accepted the responsibility of raising me when no other man would. He is a hero to me, and he should be a hero to you as well; and I’ll tell you why.
Born on January 6, 1941, Braxton Eugene Steede manifested a truly transcendental Bermudian talent from early on. Everything was music back then, as television, cinema, and the internet ranged from scarce to non-existent at the time.
Mr Steede recalls growing up in Bermuda during those days, and the influences that shaped him into the world class entertainer that he would become:
“My mother sang in a choir and my father played a trombone. As a child I lived a short distance away from an elementary school which was also used as the residence of the North Shore Marching Band. The building was referred to as the Band Room. Between the age of 7 and 10 all the children in the neighborhood would gather to hear the band practice. I had a brother and sister who were twins and they both became entertainers; my brother sang with his wife and my sister sang with some of the local bands.
“As time went by, I made friends with guys who loved to get together and sing doowop on the street corners, or at parties. We also did barbershop music. People loved it, and offered us employment. When auditions were held for entertainment at the hotels, I auditioned, and was accepted for one of the shows by a man named Don Gibson. The name of the show was The Golf Stream Revue, which later became the Holiday Island Revue.”
His time with the doowop group, the Starlites – which began when he was just 15-years-old – gave him a taste for showbusiness, so it was a no-brainer that he would show up to an audition for the hot new show on the horizon!
The Holiday Island Revue was a legendary show, which ran from 1959 to 1971, moving from hotel to hotel on a weekly rotation. Working as a full-time performer and making a decent living in Bermuda has always been tough, but Mr Steede decided that he would live that impossible dream quite early on:
“Through the work at the hotels I realized that this could be a career for me. Working seven nights a week was, to me, a sign of success.”
Honing his craft during his time with the Revue, it would not be long before Mr Steede would find success as a headliner, delivering nightly shows in the luxurious Empire Room at the Southampton Princess hotel – to the utter glee of visitors and locals alike. The Gene Steede Show, as it was called, was a spectacular event, full of song, dance, comedy, and all-around joyousness. I spent many a late night sitting in that room, watching a master entertainer work the crowd with effortless charm, and buckets of charisma.
Many years were spent opening for Greg Thompson’s Fabulous Follies in that space, but – as biased as I am – I honestly don’t ever remember them Follies outshining Mr Gene Steede!
Working with legendary Bermudian musicians like George Smith (Uncle George), Stan Gilbert (Uncle Stan), and Charles Taylor, Mr Steede forged quite a legacy with his Bermuda Triangle Band. That show also saw the introduction of the wonderful Dawnelle Robinson, whose vocals added some distinct feminine energy to the show.
These were my personal favorite days going to work with dad – I especially liked when he would come to the table where I was sitting with my mom and sign the check to cover all our drinks for the evening; you know, children love the simple things.
Mr Steede has an appreciation for the simple things as well, naming the Bermudian family structure, the friendliness of the people, and the cleanliness of the island as the aspects of Bermudian culture he values most highly.
On being considered a Bermudian ‘culture creator,’ Mr Steede defers to the work:
“I have always enjoyed what I do and I am humbled by the reaction of people who show their appreciation. It always gave me inspiration to continue, and do better.”
Mr Steede’s career was always marked by sharpness, professionalism, and an acute versatility. He was, first-and-foremost, a vocalist, blessed with a rich tenor, that could morph into a visceral baritone with consummate ease. But he was never going to just stand up and sing – he was an entertainer!
Picking up skills from such notable local practitioners as vocal coach Joey Robinson, master congista King Trott, legendary guitarist Milton Robinson, and verified renaissance man Ronald Lightbourne (Uncle Ronald), Mr Steede became as complete a showman as Bermuda has ever produced.
Mr Steede also spent a lot of time travelling around the United States – and the world – with master poet and improv artist Steve Depass (Uncle Steve) – from whom he also picked up quite a few handy skills. It was through Uncle Steve that my dad found himself working on a benefit show with Melba Moore, who subsequently dubbed him ‘Bermuda’s Natural Resource’ – an amazingly apt moniker! Needless-to-say … it stuck!
In the nineties and early oughts, Mr Steede delivered another celebrated stage show to jovial crowds. This show was housed in the Gazebo Lounge at the Hamilton Princess hotel, and ran several nights each week.
Notable for the addition of three fabulous backup singers – Dawnelle Robinson returned, and was joined by Sheila Smith and Rochelle Simons – and regular cameos by Uncle Steve, this ninety-or-so minute show was another smash hit!
A consummate entertainer and humble spirit, Mr Steede was also known for his willful enthusiasm to share his talents through charity work. He has been honored for his contributions to our island home many times, but his own highlights are:
“Being honored by the Queen of England with an MBE, receiving the Government of Bermuda’s Lifetime Achievement Award, and being roasted by my friends, the entertainers of Bermuda – twice.”
These days Mr Steede is happiest when he is spending time with his grandchildren – as well he should be.