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The Music Diaries | KC chapel choir integral in shaping musical talent

Published:Sunday | July 9, 2017 | 12:00 AMRoy Black
Frankie Campbell
Members of the KC Chapel Choir in performance.

Over the years, Kingston College (KC) has produced several outstanding entertainers in the field of popular music. The list includes the former lead vocalist of the Fab 5 band, Peter Scarlett, and its present leader and bass player, Frankie Campbell; Noris Weir and 'Flats' Hylton - lead vocalists of the Jamaicans, a popular vocal trio of the 1960s; Howard Barrett, vocalist with the 1960s rocksteady vocal trio - The Paragons; John Jones - popular vocalist, actor, and broadcaster; Alan Magnus - popular retired broadcaster and vocalist of the Flying Machine song; Dobby Dobson, whose Loving Pauper was, perhaps, the most popular rocksteady song ever; Lloyd Lovindeer - vocalist and vaudevillian; Dr Winston Davidson - operatic singer; DJ Little Lenny, whose infamous megahit Gun Inna Baggy created quite a stir.

The musicians include keyboard players Jackie Mittoo, who was mainly responsible for Studio 1 success; and Tyrone Downie, keyboardist of Bob Marley and The Wailers during their heyday of the 1970s; Harold Butler - songwriter and keyboard specialist and Augustus Pablo - melodica play and keyboardist. And the list goes on.

The school's chapel choir, which started in 1947, twenty-two years after the school itself started, has been credited by many as the feeding ground for several of the musically inclined who passed through the walls of the institution and who made a name for themselves in popular music. The public pronouncement was that the choir was started to accompany the newly constructed St Augustine Chapel at Clovelly Park, the home of the school. To the founder of KC, Bishop Gibson, the choir was an inextricable component of the school, and to his successor, the well-reputed 1960s headmaster Douglas Forrest, whose tutelage I was honoured to embrace, it was almost sacrilegious for a boy with a talent for singing, not to find himself in the choir.

With Forrest and choirmaster Barry Davis consolidating the foundation during the 1960s and 1970s, the choir became the most popular one in the Caribbean and has remained so, while maintaining a busy schedule of concerts at home and abroad.

Dobby Dobson, the cool-voiced crooner on the recording Loving Pauper, was numbered among those produced by the choir. Dobson formed his first group - The Deltas while still at school and recorded the gentle doo-wop song Cry A Little Cry in 1959, which went to the top of the Jamaican charts. After leaving school, he partnered with Charles Joseph (Chuck) to record Sweater Than Honey for Edward Seaga's WIRL label. By the latter half of the 1960s, Dobson's popularity had risen to astronomical levels with the Studio 1 classic Seems I'm Losing You and Loving Pauper, which contained a proposition that would never be entertained by present-day women:

"I'm not in a position to maintain you,

the way you're accustomed to

Financially, I'm a pauper

But when it comes to loving I'm all right."




Noris Weir, lead vocalist of The Jamaicans, was a member of KC's choir for the majority of his 1959-1965 tenure at the institution. Weir's lead vocals, backed by Tommy Cowan and Martin Williams, proved crucial to the group's success.

Howard Barrett emerged from the Chapel Choir after leaving Kingston College to join Bob Andy, John Holt, and Tyrone Evans as The Paragons, who did their first set of recordings for the Studio 1 label.

Other notable choristers who excelled in popular music include the multitalented musician Ralph Holding, brother of cricketer Michael Holding; Winston Tucker - famed frontman with the Home T-4 group; and No-Maddz, the band of the moment on the Kingston music scene, comprising an all-Kingston College aggregation.

And from a band of the moment, we move to a band of the past, which has also found favour with the younger generation. In more than a 45-year career, Fab 5 Inc has emerged as Jamaica's number one award-winning show band. The nucleus of the band at the outset comprised the Fortis trio of vocalist Peter Scarlett, guitarist Stevie Golding, and bassist and present leader Frankie Campbell, who was a long-serving member of the Kingston College Chapel Choir in the 1960s. Scarlett went on to record with the band the perennial Asking For Love and Come Back And Stay.

The Chapel of St Augustine and the Kingston College Choir celebrate their 70th anniversary this year, and a number of events have taken place to recognise the occasion. The celebrations evoke memories of the 1960s when large numbers of patrons flocked to the Carib Cinema to hear the smooth angelic sounds of the choir.

They have gone on overseas tours to the Cayman Islands, New York and Miami in the 1980s, and in 2012, sang on the grounds of the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., as a part of Jamaica's 50th anniversary of Independence. The choir has made several recordings: Christmas Carols (1963), Favourite Hymns (1965), In Memoriam - a tribute to Bishop Gibson (1970), Songs for All Seasons (2000), Songs of Praise (2011) and Sing De Chorus (2014).