Wed | Jan 23, 2019

Outstanding singers, musicians short-lived

Published:Sunday | November 23, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Dennis Brown
Garnett Silk
Jacob Miller
Sam Cooke
Elvis Presley

Perhaps a common cliché for the average man is that 'bright lights burn half as long', and in a literal sense, it may very well be true. From a metaphorical perspective, the cliché takes on added veracity when applied to many outstanding singers and musicians, especially in the early entertainment business. Although the phenomenon does not apply to all and sundry, it is quite noticeable that many such individuals live half their normal lifespan or have short lifespans. Many theories have been advanced in an effort to explain the reasons for the phenomenon. Many experts blame youthful exuberance, which results in reckless actions, leading to motor vehicle accidents, for example. Noted physician and surgeon Doctor Patrick Lodenquai advanced the theory that improper diet (fast foods), inadequate rest, and constant 'bleaching' could play a significant role in many an artiste's early demise. Many performers have difficulty in finding time to eat, having to rush from one engagement to another, while constant 'late hours' stage shows curtail their rest period. Smoking, drug, and alcohol abuse are three of the major actions blamed for early body collapse.

Numbered among young recording artistes who died from disputes, natural causes, non-motor vehicle accidents, and perils, was Jamaica's talented vocalist Garnett Silk. He was only 28 years old when he passed. Bob Marley survived for eight years longer, while the talented American folk rocker, Bobby Darin of Dream lover fame died at age 37. Ronnie Dyson and Roy Hamilton, two of the greatest singers that the world has ever known, survived for only 40 years a piece. Interestingly, Jamaican reggae stars Peter Tosh and Dennis Brown, along with the Rock and Roll King, Elvis Presley, all shared a lifespan of 42 years.

Bobby Darin's story is particularly interesting. Showing an interest in music from an early age, he became proficient at drums, piano, and guitar by his early teens. By the time he had his first set of hits, including Splish Splash and Queen of the Hop in the late 1950s, he was far more advanced than the typical singer of his age. Darin became so versatile that music aficionados had a problem in deciding whether to classify him as a rock and roll singer, an interpreter of popular standards, a balladeer, or a folk rocker. A number of movie roles and an Oscar nomination complemented his accolades. Darin had learnt from early that he had a heart problem and he might not live past age 18, so he was duty-bound to achieve his goals as quickly as possible. Living on overtime, he achieved his goals, passing on December 20, 1973.

Bob Marley's contribution to reggae music during a two-decade career (1962-1981) earned for him the title 'Reggae King'. His collaborations with noted music producer Chris Blackwell produced eight classic albums that seem to bring hope to the downtrodden and guidance to world leaders. He died May 11, 1981, leaving behind 11 or more children to continue his works.

Perhaps second only to Marley in terms of international popularity, Dennis Brown's work in a three-decade career earned him the title, 'The Crown Prince of Reggae'. Spending only 42 years on earth, he managed to amass a catalogue that seems to stretch from here to eternity. He has the enviable distinction of being the only recording artiste in Jamaica's modern popular music to be interred in the National Heroes Park, having made the transition on July 1, 1999.

Peter Tosh, while spending a similar length of time (October 19, 1944 - September 11, 1987), took a more revolutionary route to success than did most of his contemporaries, demonstrating his uncompromising disgust on matters of injustice in recordings like Buckingham Palace, Equal Rights and Justice, and Get Up, Stand Up. During a 23-year career, Tosh copped several number-one hits, was posthumously awarded a Grammy, and was conferred with the Order of Merit by the Jamaican Government in 2012.

Demonstrating extraordinary abilities as a rock and roller, the third member of the '42' club, Elvis Presley, was crowned Rock and Roll King in the late 1950s.

Garnett Silk, who was on his way to becoming one of Jamaica's brightest stars during the late 1980s and 1990s, lost his life at age 28 while attempting to save his mother from her burning house. He will always be remembered for his smooth, emotive voice and his recordings No Disrespect and his album Its Growing, which became one of Jamaica's bestsellers. When we talk of Silk, we remember Jacob Miller, who had a similar voice quality with a bit more power. Miller, who died in his mid-20s in a motor vehicle accident along Hope Road on March 23, 1980, made his debut at Studio1 with Love is a Message.

Returning to the overseas circuit, we remember Sam Cooke and Billy Stewart, two stalwarts who passed away at age 33. Cooke, rated by many as the most talented singer of all time, was shot and killed on December 11, 1964, after an altercation with a Los Angeles motel manager, Bertha Franklin, who Cooke accused of hiding his date, Linda Boyer, who had fled his room with his clothes. Stewart, a sort of genius in his own way, created a highly distinctive scat-singing style that produced hits like Sitting in the Park, I Do Love You, Reap What You Sow, and Strange Feeling.

Ronnie Dyson was en route to becoming the greatest singer of his generation when illness aborted his career at age 40. He was perhaps the youngest artist to have achieved both stage and recording success. Roy Hamilton, who died at that same age, possessed a voice of steel that saw him venturing into the various genres of pop, soul, rock, latin, and sentimental.

Richie Valens, famous for Oh Donna and La Bamba, was perhaps the youngest to have made the transition at age 17. Soul giant Otis Redding did so at age 26, while super-singing talent Frankie Lymon died from drug abuse at age 25. The Barbadian Jackie Opel managed to make it to 32, while R&B giant Clyde McPhatter outlasted Opel by seven years.