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BYRON LEE: JAMAICA’S MUSICAL PIONEER!

By Howard Campbell—

Byron Lee (center) performing with his band Byron Lee and the Dragonaires. (Photo: Observer file) —

 

Though he received a number of civic awards in Jamaica and the Caribbean, Byron Lee never felt appreciated by the music class in his homeland.

For while he started the Dragonaires band at St George’s College in the early 1950’s, and recorded and produced several hit songs, Lee never shook his middle-class, uptown tag.

“We (Dragonaires) can point to so many things we did, so many accomplishments but we just never got the respect,” Lee told the Jamaica Observer in 1997.

Lee, who died from cancer in 2008, got a lot of respect for his business smarts and role as leader of Jamaica’s most enduring band.

The Dragonaires had hit songs in the pre-ska era ( Dumplings in 1959) and hit the chart in 1965 with Jamaican Ska which prompted a mini buzz for the genre in the United States.

Byron Lee

Byron Lee

Lee’s acquisition of West Indies Record Limited from Edward Seaga was one of his master strokes. Renamed Dynamic Sounds, it was where he produced a number of classic sides by the Blues Busters ( Behold and Soon You’ll Be Gone); Toots and The Maytals ( Bam Bam), Eric “Monty” Morris ( Sammy Dead) and Hopeton Lewis ( Groovin’ Out On Life).

The Dragonaires were also a stepping stone for several noted vocalists including Lewis, Vic Taylor, Marvin Brooks and Trinidadian Oscar B.

For many years, Lee and the Dragonaires were part of the Carnival circuit in the Eastern Caribbean, working with top players like The Mighty Sparrow.

In the 1980’s as soca superseded Calypso, he and the band had two significant hit songs in Give Me Soca and Tiney Winey. They set the tone for Jamaica Carnival, a week-long event Lee considered his greatest achievement.

ByronLeeUptownTopRanking-150x150

Launched in 1990 during Easter holidays, Jamaica Carnival attracted thousands of fans, and artists who transcended class lines. Interestingly, as the event flourished, the Dragonaires had a massive hit with deejay Admiral Bailey.

That hit was Dancehall Soca which appealed to a diverse audience. In a way, the song and Jamaica Carnival gave Byron Lee the respect he believed was so elusive.

ByronLee

He was awarded the Order of Jamaica by the government one week before his death which came on November 8. He was 73.

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