Art Music by Caribbean Composers:
U.S. Virgin Islands


Christine Gangelhoff

Cathleen LeGrand

The College of The Bahamas[1]



Like so many other of the Caribbean islands discovered by Columbus, the U.S. Virgin Islands were settled by Spain.  However, the Virgin Islands changed hands frequently and they were officially acquired by Denmark in the 17th century.  The islands remained a Danish colony until purchased by the United States in 1917 ("Caribbean Islands," 2008).  While the U.S. Virgin Islands consist of over 50 islands, its three major landforms are St. Croix, St. John and St. Thomas.

Virgin Island music is syncretic, reflecting both African and European heritage.  While older traditions including cariso and bamboula are virtually extinct, quelbe is popular throughout the islands, with bands such as Stanley and The Ten Sleepless Nights performing frequently.  “In 2003, the 25th Legislature of the Virgin Islands passed Bill No. 25-0056, which designates quelbe as the official music of the Virgin Islands and requires that it be taught in the public schools” (Stanley, 2010).

Quelbe - Official music of the Virgin Islands

Many music teachers receive their training at the University of the Virgin Islands (UVI), which offers a Bachelor degree in Music Education.  UVI is also home to the Reichold Center for the Arts, one of the premier performance venues in the Caribbean, where performances of local and international artists are featured in an eclectic concert season.

The foremost composer native to the U.S. Virgin Islands is Alton A. Adams, Sr.  Adams was the first black bandmaster of the United States Navy.  “Adams’s best-known compositions, Virgin Islands March (1919), The Governor’s Own (1921), and Spirit of the U.S.N. (1924), were composed in the idiom of Adams’s inspiration, Sousa, and were performed throughout the United States and Europe by leading ensembles …” (Adams, 2008, p. 8).  His Virgin Islands March is considered the islands' official anthem.  Although he employed the traditional form of the march in these works, he incorporated rhythms of quelbe, for example, in the trio section of the Virgin Islands March.

Alton A. Adams Sr. Virgin Islands March

  In Adams’s Warbling in the Moonlight, a work for piccolo with band accompaniment, he draws on the binary structure typically found in quelbe music.

Alton A. Adams, Jr. Warbling in the Moonlight

Wilbur "Bill" La Motta is another major composer from the USVI.  He wrote a variety of vocal and instrumental works, often based on local traditional melodies.  La Motta came from a musical family; his brother, Raymond, is also a composer.  Like his brother, Raymond La Motta wrote compositions influenced by local culture and tradition.  One such tradition is the danza, a dance form of Puerto Rican origin that has become a cultural standard in the U.S. Virgin Islands owing to the large number of Puerto Ricans living there and to the close ties between the two islands (R. La Motta, personal communication, May 2011).

Danza - En Mis Islas Virgenas (excerpt)




Caribbean Islands: US Virgin Islands. (2008). In Philip's world factbook, 2008-2009. Retrieved from

Clague, M. (Ed.). (2008). The memoirs of Alton Augustus Adams Sr.: First black bandmaster of the United States Navy. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Stanley & the Ten Sleepless Nights: Performing quelbe music for 40 years. (2010, June 8). St. Croix Source. Retrieved from

[1]Christine Gangelhoff, Assistant Professor, School of Communication and Creative Arts; Cathleen LeGrand, Public Services Librarian, Libraries and Instructional Media Services, The College of The Bahamas, P.O. Box N-4912, Nassau, Bahamas.

Cathleen LeGrand is now Librarian, at Royal Thimphu College, Ngabiphu, Thimphu, Bhutan.

Acknowledgments: The authors would like to thank the following for their contributions and assistance with this chapter: Alton Adams, Jr., Valrica Bryson, Bradley Christian, Dr. Lois Hassell-Habtes, Stanley Jacobs (and members of the Ten Sleepless Knights), Calvin Jones, Raymond La Motta, Dr. Ruby Simmonds, Beverly Smith, Neomie Toussaint-Williams, Dr. Leroy Trotman, Bertha C. Boschulte Middle School, Enid M. Baa Library Von Scholten Collection, St. Croix Educational Complex, and St. Croix Landmarks Society.

The authors are grateful to The College of The Bahamas for the grant that made this research possible.


How to cite this article in APA 6th ed. style: Gangelhoff, C., & LeGrand, C. (2011). Art music by Caribbean composers: U.S. Virgin Islands. The International Journal of Bahamian Studies, 17(1), 53-59. Retrieved from

Copyright (c) 2011 C. Gangelhoff & C. LeGrand