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The Music Diaries | Lone female Wailer played integral role in original group - Beverley Kelso remembers being a confidante

Published:Sunday | May 21, 2017 | 12:00 AMRoy Black
From left: Bunny Livingston, Bob Marley, and Peter Tosh as The Wailers.

One of the most commonly accepted inaccuracies floating around these days in music circles is that Bunny Wailer is the only surviving member of the legendary Wailers singing group. Beverley Kelso, one of the surviving symbols and cornerstone of the group, is very much alive and well, living in New York. She is not just a surviving member, but a very integral and important part of that set-up that helped to lay the foundation on which the group was built.

Formed as a quintet in 1963 with Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, Bunny Wailer, Junior Braithwaite, and the lone female, Kelso, she was so important to the sound that the group wanted that when she decided to leave, they struggled to find an adequate replacement to retain that sound. That sound was her high-pitched voice, which, along with Braithwaite's, provided the harmony that they so desperately needed to blend with the other three members. It was a big blow to the group when both Kelso and Braithwaite left, and being unable to find suitable replacements, they resorted to being a trio.

Speaking to Kelso from her home in New York a little over a week ago, she confirmed that she was a member of the quintet that entered the gates of Studio 1 at 13 Brentford Road (now Studio 1 Boulevard) on that fate-deciding morning in late 1963 with four songs they wished to record. Simmer Down, I Don't Need Your Love, Straight and Narrow Way, and How Many Times were the songs recorded on their first outing, with Kelso's voice appearing prominently on all the cuts. With the best ska band in the land - The Skatalites - in attendance, Simmer Down emerged as the most successful piece and the Wailers' first hit. It stood at number one on the Jamaican charts for several weeks in early 1964. Other big hits that Kelso's voice decorated were It Hurts To Be Alone and Lonesome Feeling.

Born on April 14, 1948, in Kingston, Kelso was the youngest member of the group, yet she was the confidante.


Always showed support


"Any little thing that happened, Lester (the name she called Marley) would come and tell me and ask what he should do. He trusted me," she disclosed to me in the telephone interview. She continued, "So when Lester was getting married, I was the only one who knew. He invited me to the wedding, but I was ill on that day and couldn't attend. When something happened (Rita's pregnancy), and Bob was worried, I advised him to check Mr Dodd for assistance." Kelso gives credit to all the members, who she said took care of her and were very loving and kind, "yet no one made any approaches on me. they all respected me", she said.

Beverley Kelso's contribution to the Wailers' legacy takes on added dimensions when one considers that she could truly be responsible for starting the Bob Marley Empire, albeit unwittingly.

In a 2004 interview in New York with Colby Graham, author of The Vintage Boss Magazine, Kelso is quoted as saying: "While going to studio from Trench Town, we usually take shortcuts through Ninth Street and The Calvary Cemetery and pass by Rita's house. She had a baby in her hand and usually waved at us. The others ignored her, but I felt bad as a woman and would sometimes stop to play with the baby. When I caught up with them, they were upset about me stopping with her. One afternoon, she told me that she had a song named Opportunity, which she wanted to record. I told Mr Dodd and he said that I should bring her. I rushed back to get her, but she was not ready as she had to find her back-up singers. She later arrived at Studio 1 with a cousin named Constantine Walker, also known as Dream, and a girl who I called Precious. Calling themselves The Soulettes, they recorded the song the following day," Kelso concluded.

Were it not for Kelso's actions, there perhaps might never have been a chance meeting between Rita Anderson and Bob Marley.