Sat | Sep 23, 2017

Devon Dick | Celebrating with Ernie Smith at 50

Published:Thursday | May 4, 2017 | 5:00 AM

On Sunday, Glenroy 'Ernie' Anthony Michael Archangelo Smith celebrated 50 years as a singer, composer and entertainer at the Holy Name of Jesus Roman Catholic Church, Bamboo, St Ann. His name suggests that his parents wanted to thrust greatness on him. But not only was it to be thrust on him, as after 50 years in the music business, he has achieved greatness.

Perhaps Ernie's top four songs are Life Is Just for Living (1972), Duppy or Gunman (1974), The Power and the Glory (1976) and All for Jesus (1978). Some persons might select Key Card, Pitta Patta, I Can't take it, etc.

These four selected songs speak to the diverse interests and longevity of Ernie. Life Is Just for Living was written for Jamaican beer, Red Stripe in 1972, and 45 years later, this Yamaha Music Festival Song winner is being used in the Red Stripe commercial. This must be a first for any song used in a commercial jingle and speaks to the eternal value of the lyrics. And when Janet, Ernie's wife, was giving the vote of thanks at the celebration Mass, she mentioned the song being used for the commercial and added "drink responsibly". The song reminds us that life is meant to be lived to the fullest. It is sad to die without living life. God intended for us to enjoy life and to experience life to its fullest.

Duppy or Gunman relates a man going to have an intimate relationship with his 'queen' only to hear 'don't move', and he was so frightened that he ran faster than Donald Quarrie (a Jamaican Olympian and one of the world's top sprinters in the 1970s), because he was not sure whether it was a duppy or a gunman. He later discovered that it was a Dread just running a little joke with him. It is a beautiful romantic story full of meaning, easy to remember and easy on the ears a style that characterises Ernie's songs.

In 1973, the Government gave Ernie Smith a badge of honour, but that did not stop him from speaking about the socio-economic conditions in the song The Power and the Glory, which was interpreted as a criticism of the Michael Manley government. After threats on his life, he migrated to Canada. It is sad that politicians and followers cannot accept criticisms, even unfair ones.

 

SPIRITUALITY IN MUSIC

 

And in All for Jesus, Ernie reminds sinners that Jesus died for one and all. This is an evangelistic song. It could be used in church. Ernie is in the tradition of some Rastafarian singers who spoke to all conditions of life. Bob Marley, the greatest exponent of reggae music, was able to fuse life, love and loyalty to God in his catalogue of music. So, as a singer, he spoke about love in Stir It Up and also spoke to injustices in War and extols the virtue of Haile Selassie as God in Jah Live. This is the tradition of the Hebrews, who believed that a human was made up of body, mind and soul.

Unfortunately, in the main, our gospel singers have created a dichotomy between soul and body, following many preachers who do not have a holistic view of life. So the gospel singers' only deal with songs for a troubled, tormented and tortured soul while ignoring social justice - issues stemming from a troubled and tormented society. The exceptions are rare such as Prodigal's Country A Bawl and Queson Brown's Help. And whereas there are worship songs that express love to God, there are very few gospel singers singing about sex as a gift from God and the beauty of the marriage relationship between a husband and wife. Obviously, the book, Songs of Solomon, has not inspired those songs.

Ernie challenges one-dimensional singers to deal with all issues that affect life as comprising mind, body and soul.

- Rev Devon Dick is pastor of the Boulevard Baptist Church in St Andrew. He is author of 'The Cross and the Machete', and 'Rebellion to Riot'. Send feedback to columns@ gleanerjm.com.