For nearly 50 years, Stanley and the Ten Sleepless Knights (TSK) have serenaded the St. Croix community with the sweet sounds of Christmas quelbe music during the holidays. Over a two-day period, the band kicks off just after a midnight on Christmas Eve and Christmas morning spreading holiday cheer from one end of the island to the next.
TSK is the leading band in the U.S. Virgin Islands that performs the territory’s official music known as quelbe. Also known as scratch band music, this native grassroots form of folk music originated in the USVI and is a form of oral history. It is used to preserve significant historical events, tell stories and jokes (often with a bit of risque undertone) and relay the day-to-day trials and tribulations of island life. This iconic scratch band consists of ten members playing a variety of instruments including a triangle, squash, flute, guitar, steel bass pan, banjo and a conga drum, to name a few. African rhythms and the sound of Danish and British military bands influenced the sound of quelbe music, which has gained great popularity over the past decades.
Band member Kendell Henry shared that the band carried their instruments and walked from house to house when they started back in the 1970s. Today, the band travels across the island on a flatbed truck outfitted with speakers, weaving in and out of neighborhoods playing the sweet sounds of quelbe music. Typically, the serenade route kicks off in Christiansted on Christmas Eve making its way through the neighborhoods as they head east. A long line of vehicles often trails behind the band as they make stops at designated homes to enjoy traditional Christmas refreshments. On Christmas morning, the band heads west to Frederiksted stopping at designated homes once again with the addition of revelry and dancing in the streets. Crowd participation for the serenade has looked different in recent years due to the pandemic. However, the band expects to see the return of some of these traditions this year.
The serenade remains an important part of St. Croix’s culture because it keeps the tradition of quelbe music alive as it was done years ago. In June 2022, band founder Stanley Jacobs received the National Heritage Fellowship Award. As one of the ten fellows (chosen from 180), Jacobs was awarded a $25,000 one-time honorific grant. The National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship is the nation’s highest honor in the folk and traditional arts that celebrates artistic excellence and supports continuing contributions to the traditional arts heritage.
For more information about the serenade, visit TSK’s Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/tensleepless.knights.
Written by Anquanette Gaspard firstname.lastname@example.org