Gillian Nathaniel Balintulo, a renowned classical musician and teacher, who for many years served as musical director and conductor of the All Stars Steel Orchestra, has died in South Africa after a brief illness.Her death came just months after the passing of her husband Marcus in December 2020. Shortly after, she was diagnosed with cancer and died peacefully in her sleep on September 11, at her home in Capetown.
Originally from Belmont, Balintulo was, for many years, an in-demand music teacher. However, she is best known for her collaborations with All Stars in the 1980s.
In 1987, she was invited to accompany the-then Catelli All Stars in its performance of Gershwin’s concerto, Rhapsody in Blue for the band’s Classical Jewels VI production.
The following year she was appointed musical director and conductor after the retirement of Jerry Jemmott and led the band in its performances of Tune of Choice and the test piece in that year’s Steelband Festival.
In 1989, Balintulo toured Jamaica with the band and the UK in 1990. Meticulous and unwavering with her standards, she earned the respect of band members and was nicknamed Steroids in the All Stars fraternity, for her demanding and unrelenting approach.
In paying tribute, Marcia La Borde, her cousin, recalled: “She exuded youthful energy, elegance, sophistication and professionalism while commanding her pan subjects.
“Her five-foot-nine inch lean and flexible frame had a fluidity to it, making her on-stage movements, almost balletic in nature and affording her an easy affinity with her audiences. “This style was unique to the theatre of pan and second nature to T&T’s pan man.”
She grew up on Norfolk Street, Belmont, with her parents Raleigh and Phyllis Nathaniel and four siblings— Gordon, June, Ainsley and Amery.
Naomi Nathaniel taught all of her children to play the piano and instilled in all of them a love for music.
Balintulo, who attended St Rose’s Girls RC School and St Joseph’s Convent, Port-of-Spain, was active in music throughout secondary school, competing and representing her school in the music festival from the age of 12.
La Borde said: “In the piano category, she was a confident competitor for her age and unlike her older competitors, she sometimes played without music sheets having learnt the pieces by heart.
“From 12 to 18 years she dominated the category for two consecutive festivals—1962 and 1964, copping first place in the Piano Solo Class in her respective age groups. In 1966, the first place trophy for Junior Instrumental Solo was awarded to her. So outstanding were her performances in these festivals, she was awarded the prestigious title of Championship winner on each occasion.”
She later competed in the vocal category in duets and trios and in 1966 placed first in the Mezzo-Soprano Solo and Girls’ Vocal Duet classes, sharing the latter victory with duet partner Gylla Gatcliff (nee Reid).
Balintulo went on to the Royal College of Music in London, England, where she attained the Associate of the Royal College of Music in piano teaching. After returning to T&T, she taught at Queen’s Royal College for two years before establishing her private teaching practice.
“So in-demand was her service that there was usually a waiting list,” La Borde said. At a recital at the University of the West Indies (UWI), she caught the eye of a member of the audience Marcus Balintulo, from Botswana, South Africa, who was then a member of the UWI faculty. They were married in 1974 after a brief courtship and had three children, daughter Liziwe and sons Liyanda and Siyavuya.
The family emigrated to Botswana in 1990 and eventually settled in Capetown, South Africa when Marcus was appointed principal and vice-chancellor of the Walter Sisulu University.
Before she left T&T, Balintulo purchased a grand piano from Queen’s Hall which she took with her to South Africa.
This piano served her in her private teaching capacity outside of her teaching profession at various schools.
Her last visit to T&T was in 2018. Balintulo’s funeral service took place in South Africa last Friday with Massy All Stars pan music, accompanying her entry to the church and her exit.
She is survived by her three children, six grandchildren, siblings Amory, Ainsley and June, as well as her extended family and long-standing friends in T&T and Capetown.