Jamaican DJ U-Roy died on Feb. 17, 2021. He was 78.
His partner of many years, Marcia Smilke, said U-Roy died at the University Hospital of the West Indies in Kingston, Jam. after undergoing surgery.
Smilke said U-Roy was ill for some time.
U-Roy was born Ewart Beckford on Sept. 20, 1942 in Jones Town, Jam. He was given his nickname by a younger family member who could not pronounce Ewart.
U-Roy first became a DJ at the age of 14. “My mother used to say to me: Why don’t you trim and shave because you will look a much nicer boy?” he said in an interview.
“And I used to say, ‘Listen mum, I did not tell you not to be a Seventh-Day Adventist. I did not tell you not to play that organ on that choir. I’m going to do what I have to do and I’m not going to disrespect you. But what I believe in is what I believe in.”
Known as U-Roy or Daddy U-Roy, the veteran singer and DJ was one of dancehall’s most influential figures. He pioneered the vocal style of “toasting” – performing conversational, rhythmic speech over a reggae or dancehall beat.
U-Roy began his professional career in 1961, performing on the sound system owned by Dickie Wong, who ran the Tit for Tat record label and club in Kingston.
He also spent some time as the top DJ of King Tubby’s Hometown Hi-Fi in the late 60s.
In 1969 U-Roy made his first recordings, with Keith Hudson, Lee Perry, and Peter Tosh.
A year later, John Holt of ska group the Paragons witnessed U-Roy DJing and toasting over Holt’s song, “Wear You to the Ball.” Holt told producer Duke Reid to work with U-Roy.
Three immediate hits, “Wake the Town”, “Rule the Nation” and “Wear You to the Ball” grew out of their partnership.
By the late 1970s, U-Roy reached international fame for records like 1976’s Natty Rebel and 1978’s Jah Son of Africa.
U-Roy earned a reputation as the King of Toasters, and later as the “Originator” for being the first to put his distinctive vocal style on record.
He inspired the creation of hip-hop when DJs Kool Herc and Coke La Rock took U-Roy’s sound to parties in the Bronx. Kool Herc’s apartment block would come to be recognised as the birthplace of hip-hop.
U-Roy created his own sound system, Stur Gav in the 1970s. It helped launch the careers of Shabba Ranks, Ranking Joe, Josey Wales, and Brigadier Jerry.
“That was the biggest fun in my life when I started doing this,” U-Roy said.
In 2008 the Jamaican government awarded U-Roy the Order of Distinction for his influence on the country’s musical history.
In 2019 he was “crowned” by Shabba Ranks in New York, who called him “di Picasso of our music”. That year he also released a new album, Rebel in Styylle.
Reflecting on his message, U-Roy said, “I just talk about unity with people. I don’t really try to put down people or anything like that. Violence is very ugly and love is very lovely. I never been to college or anything like that, but I have some common sense, and what I learn I just make the best of it, you know.”
SOURCES: THEFADER.COM, THEGUARDIAN.COM, JAMAICA-GLEANER.COM, JAMAICAOBSERVER.COM, MSN.COM, PITCHFORK.COM