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U.S. Virgin Islands

St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands: Culture Shines Beyond the Beaches

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John W. Hodge is an enthusiastic advocate of the U.S. Virgin Islands and all they have to offer to visitors.

“After spending time on our beaches, I’d have to take visitors to a cultural event such as Carnival. I would want them to appreciate the rich culture and important history of these islands,” says the chief instructor of the Rising Stars Youth Steel Orchestra and a native Virgin Islander. He recommends different ways for visitors to get to know the local culture.

Music with a Message

The Rising Stars Youth Steel Orchestra was founded in 1981 by John W. Hodge’s uncle, Verne Hodge, then-chief judge of the Virgin Islands Territorial Court, as a way to help prevent juvenile delinquency and change attitudes about school. John Hodge had been fascinated by the steel pan since he was a child, and after a stint in the U.S. Air Force, he began working with the Rising Stars. 

Open to middle and high school students, the orchestra provides top-level musical instruction as well as academic tutoring. To stay in the orchestra, students must maintain good grades and stay out of trouble. The Rising Stars started as a summer camp with fewer than 50 kids. The next year, they performed at Carnival, a huge annual event. Since then, the Rising Stars has grown into a widely known, year-round program with nearly 200 kids that performs all over the Caribbean.

John Hodge, chief instructor, Rising Stars Youth Steel Orchestra

John Hodge, chief instructor, Rising Stars Youth Steel Orchestra
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Can’t-Miss Beaches

“Of course our beaches are famous for good reason,” Hodge says. “Each one of our beaches is special. One of my favorites is Botany Bay on the island’s western end – not just the beach itself but the drive to get there. Every fall, the surf washes the sand away, and there is no beach. In late March, the tides replenish the sand, and once again it’s a gorgeous, secluded beach. 

“I also love to take my family to Honeymoon Beach on Water Island, with all of the trees with mangos, coconuts and genips (small, green tropical fruits) above the beach. It’s a great getaway.” World-famous Magens Bay is the place for family celebrations, complete with the aromas of cooking food and the lively music.

Suggestions for Visitors

Hodge says just driving around the island is great, with spectacular views from the roads around every turn and the many overlooks. Asked about ideas for entertaining visitors, he says he would take them on an all-day tour of St. Thomas beaches – each one is a little different from the last. They’d relax for a couple of hours at one, then move on to the next.

Culture, History and More

Beyond the beaches, Hodge says he’d want to take visitors to a cultural event such as Carnival or Emancipation Day. “I would want them to appreciate the rich culture and important history of these islands,” Hodge says. “The flags of seven nations have flown over these islands during the course of history. Each culture has added its flavors to the stew.”

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