Michael A. Coggins is one who loves and cherishes his relationship with music.
He describes himself as one that interacts with music in a particular fashion
elevating his entire being. “Playing the trombone has always been my desire;
it helps me live without stress…it’s how I get my kicks…”
A Trinidadian by birth, from the city of Port of Spain, Coggins had little interest in music or playing a musical instrument until Carnival 1952, when he saw a band on the road “Playing Mas” He developed a love for the trombone as they performed a calypso in call-and-response mode.
His inspiration to play trombone came from trombonist, James Nicholas, a master trombone performer and teacher in Trinidad, when he heard him improvising on the song “In a Calabash” during a carnival serenade. Coggins’ first trombone was a used one bought from Holly Young.
At age 16, he had moved south to the city of San Fernando living briefly with his sister. It was there he saw an advertisement, “Office Boy Wanted.” He applied and got the job carrying packages, envelopes and doing general small office errands. Within the office was a small printing department and he was lured to this area, observing how it worked. Fascinated by this printing machine, and noticed by his employer, he was encouraged to apply for an apprenticeship position at the Trinidad Guardian, the biggest and oldest newspaper at the time in Trinidad. Coggins received extensive training through an apprentice program sponsored by this leading newspaper. His tenure in the field of linotype is remarkable. He worked for the Trinidad Guardian, for several years, while his passion for music grew.
His Father played guitar and bass, along with violins and local instruments, serenading during Christmas and at local dance events. Coggins’ musical talent on trombone propelled him to one of his highest points in 1959, when he recorded with the Mighty Sparrow on the album that included the feature calypsos “Mr. Herbert” and “Mango Verte.” Mighty Sparrow had badly needed a trombonist for that recording, but Coggins was hesitant to play as he was very timid because of Sparrow’s stature, and his father, seeing an opportunity for his son to advance, stated; “If you don’t do it…find someplace else to live...” Coggins played.
Throughout the Caribbean, businesses advertised for workers, and Coggins, having a desire to travel, placed his name on a list to work outside of his homeland. He obtained a printing job on the island of Jamaica in 1960 with the Gleaner for 8 months. While there he did very little playing in bands, but he earned the respect of other employees in the field of print media because of his knowledge and spirit of cooperation.
He returned to Trinidad and continued his trade as a printer and advanced his musical talent while gaining respect and love for his artistry. While there his friend Phillip Matthew, also a co-worker in print media, shared with him an advertisement from the Daily News of the Virgin Islands, which he responded to and received employment.
He left Trinidad and signed on with the Daily News of the Virgin Islands in 1962 as a Linotype Setter and worked for over twenty years. It was at this point the art of trombone performance in dance bands in the United States Virgin Islands began to take its rightful place in dance bands, with Michael A. Coggins as the pioneer.
Michael Coggins unleashed his inner most musical passion to thousands of Virgin Islanders, dance goers and students. He set the standard in trombone dance band music performance. He became the model, the standard, a true ambassador, bringing from Trinidad the flavor, customs, and traditions of dance band trombone performance to the United States Virgin Islands. With his slender frame, he gave all he learned (both in the print media field and the music field) to his new home – the Virgin Islands. He brought excitement to dance with his trombone playing when he teamed up with his musical brother, lead trumpeter Collins Wesselhoff. He attended a young dance band rehearsal and taught all music parts to the band named Tremile and the Jamals. These selections were all instrumental Calypsos from many Calypsonians.
Coggins excelled in dance band performance with the famous Milo and the Kings for almost twenty-five years. He recalled hearing Milo’s band, upon arrival on St. Thomas, at a dance at Pilgrim’s Terrace. Living in a rental owned by the Watlington’s, a stone’s throw away from the Daily News and Pilgrim’s Terrace, he attended a dance and approached who he thought was band leader Milo to ask for an opportunity to “sit-in” with the band, only to be corrected. Pedro Perez was the singer, not the leader.
In what he describes as “getting his kicks,” Coggins made music with many dance ensembles in St. Thomas: Milo and His Kings for 23 years (1962- 1985); The Imaginations Brass (1985 -2005); and finally Cool Sessions Brass (2003 – present.) On several occasions he even found time to rehearse with the New Herrnhut Trombone Choir. If it is music, and he has the time, Coggins will participate.
Being from the big island of Trinidad, Coggins knew how to “play mas.” The concept of a tramp was well ingrained in him from his participation in Carnivals in his homeland. He wholeheartedly embraced those roots as he became a member of the famous Milo and His Kings.
Coggins was one of the spark plugs, along with Ira Myers and Collins Wesselhoff and others, in the famous 1970 and 1971, Tutu-to-Town merry making tramp on foot, playing from along the Weymouth Rhymer Highway into Carnival Village in the parking lot.
Michael A. Coggins became a true Virgin Islander, giving of himself, loving and caring for his musical environment, and sharing his talent with many in this community.
He is married to Norma Coggins and between them they have five children - four boys and one girl.
/ 2019 ‘The Village’ Honoree
The Man and His Passion