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The Music Diaries | Child stars make big contributions to Jamaica's popular music

Published:Sunday | May 28, 2017 | 12:00 AMRoy Black
Dennis Brown.
Delroy Wilson
Nadine Sutherland
Ernest Wilson
Errol Dunkley
Jimmy Tucker

Even as we celebrated Labour Day on May 23, we were mindful of the fact that honest labour occupies a very important place in the development of children. And with the month of May being designated Child Month, it may, perhaps, be an opportune time to reinforce the importance of honest labour and hard work to the development of the generation that will become tomorrow's leaders, while at the same time look at some of the contributions made by several child stars of the past to the development of the nation's popular music.

Many patient pedagogues believe that music, being a unifying force, is one of the most effective tools that can be used to get these messages across to the youths. One year ago, during Child Month 2016, Mrs Jacqueline Dawes, the first-form music teacher at St George's College, conceptualised and executed the first-ever internal inter-first-form music competition in various categories. It achieved its objective by unearthing a number of promising talents and instilling in these 12, and 13-year-olds the importance of hard work and honest labour.

Also, over the past few years, we have witnessed the creation of several inter-schools music competitions, including the 'All Together Sing' choir competition. And while we are on the topic of choir competitions, it is worthy of note that the Kingston College Chapel Choir has provided popular music with several outstanding vocalists, including Howard Barrett of The Paragons, Norris Weir and 'Flats' Hylton of The Jamaicans, and Mickey Bennett of Home T4.

Jimmy Cliff, although not belonging to the Fortis family, and although not being classified as a child star at the time of his emergence, has paid his dues and continues to do so with a soft launch of his latest single, Children, which is being used as the theme song for Child Month 2017. The soft launch was a part of the official launch of Child Month, which took place on April 15 at GraceKennedy offices, downtown Kingston, under the theme 'Child Safety and Security - Our Priority'.

The prevalence of child stars in Jamaican popular music was confined mainly to the decades of the 1960s and 1970s. Perhaps the best known to most Jamaicans is Dennis Brown, who burst on the scene as a 12-year-old with the Derrick Harriott-supplied, Clement Dodd-produced hit No Man Is An Island in 1969. Brown seemed like a man inspired as he sang:

"No man is an island,

no man stands alone,

Treat each man as a brother, and remember each man's dream is your own."

He deservedly earned for himself the title 'The Crown Prince of Reggae' after a succession of number-one hits.


First recording at 13


Delroy Wilson was a 13-year-old schoolboy, still in short pants, attending Boys' Town Primary School, when he first recorded for producer Clement Dodd at Federal Recording Studios with hits Remember Your Nest, Prince Pharaoh, I Shall Not Remove, and The Lion Of Judah in 1962. The recordings helped to launch the career of Clement 'Sir Coxson' Dodd as a record producer and laid the foundation for Studio 1 to become a top recording entity in the land.

Jimmy Tucker, at seven years old, was considered Jamaica's first child prodigy. Born in 1942, Tucker was attracting packed houses by the late 1940s to listen to his silvery soprano voice. His performance once mesmerised the great Nat King Cole while Cole was on a visit to Jamaica during the mid-1950s, so much so that 'the King' extended to Tucker, through his parents, an offer to visit the US, but it didn't materialise.

Nadine Sutherland's early exposure came as an 11 year old in 1979, via the Tastee Talent Contest. She did her first single, Starvation On The Land, shortly after. The recording became one of the first to be done for the fledgling 'Tuff Gong' label.

Errol Dunkley was perhaps the longest-serving Jamaican child star in popular music, with a career that spanned some 55 years. He still performs in a career that seems to have no end in sight. Born in 1951, he did his first recording at 11-years-old - a ska piece, titled My Queen - before coming to prominence with the double, You Gonna Need Me and Stop Your Lying for producer Joe Gibbs. The latter piece saw him admonishing a girl with: "Speak the truth. if you don't love that guy, tell him you don't."

Ernest Wilson began as a 13-year-old at Studio 1, singing in duet with Peter Austin as The Clarendonians. They had a record five number-one songs on the Jamaican charts before Dodd, in one of his magical moves, paired Wilson with nine-year-old Freddie McGregor as Fitzy and Freddy to record the classic Why Did You Do It in the mid-1960s.