The Music Diaries | Age 30 a hard mark to make for many outstanding artistes
One of the noticeable features of early popular music is the many outstanding artistes who have not lived past the age of 30 years.
Otis Redding, perhaps soul music's most celebrated legend, died at age 26. He died after ignoring weather warnings, hoping to beat the inclement weather and reach an engagement on time. Redding didn't make it. His private airplane went down into the icy waters of Lake Monoma, near Madison Airport in the United States, killing him and four members of his musical entourage on December 10, 1967. He left such gems as These Arms Of Mine, Pain In My Heart, I've Been Loving You Too Long, and Sitting On The Dock Of The Bay - his last recording, which seemed like a premonition of his imminent demise:
"I left my home in Georgia
Headed for the frisco bay
'cos I've had nothing to live for
And look like nothing's gonna come my way
So I'm just gon' sit on the dock of the bay
Watching the tide roll away
I'm sitting on the dock of the bay wasting time."
The recording gave Redding the distinction of being the first recording artiste to score a posthumous number-one single. It also earned for him two Grammy awards in 1968.
Perhaps the earliest of the popular artistes to have died before reaching age 30 was Johnny Ace, one of America's most promising song stylists. While a sell-out audience waited in feverish anticipation for the appearance of Ace at the City Auditorium in Houston Texas on Christmas Eve 1954, a shot was heard. The promising star, John Marshall Alexander (Johnny Ace), had shot himself in a game of Russian Roulette. He was 25. Against the backdrop of festivities, the world was suddenly sent into turmoil. Ace's recordings, done in a bluesy-ballad style, were unique and special. They included Pledging My Love, Never Let Me Go, Saving My Love For You, The Clock, Cross My Heart, and Anymore.
At age 17, Richie Valens was the youngest to have made the transition. Of Mexican-American descent, Valens was a pioneer of the Spanish-speaking Rock 'n' Roll movement who exhibited his vocal and guitar talents on the Rock-rhythm hit, La Bamba and the slow doo-wop song Oh Donna in 1958. Like Otis Redding, he was in a rush to reach an assignment on time and chartered a small plane, which went down during a snowstorm in Ohio, USA, on February 2, 1959. Also on that ill-fated flight was 22-year-old, Buddy Holly, who had a profound influence on The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. A third victim, the 28-year-old Texas disc jock The Big Bopper, left us the jumping blues song Chantilly Lace.
Outstanding R&B singer, pianist, and songwriter Jessie Belvin, was controversially credited with co-penning the popular doo-wop song Earth Angel, sung by The Penguins in 1954 and by New Edition in 1986. Belvin was a major influence on the development of US, west coast black music. His 1954 US, R&B top 10 hit, Goodnight My Love was adopted by disc jock Alan Freed as the closing song for his popular Rock 'n' Roll radio shows. Belvin wasn't able to achieve much more as he died in a road crash on February 6, 1960, at age 27.
Another marvellous talent, Frankie Lymon, who became famous for the recording Why Do Fools Fall In Love, died of a heroin overdose on February 28, 1968, at age 25. Boasting a sweet treble voice, the New York-born youngster created a sensation wherever he went with hits like The Creation Of Love, Goody Goody, and Little Bitty Pretty One.
Fast-forwarding to 2001, we have the American singer, actress, and model, Aaliyah, being killed in a plane crash on August 25 of that year. Spending only 22 years on earth, she managed to record a plethora of songs, while having several films and television roles. A prodigious talent, Aaliyah signed a recording contract with Jive Records at age 12 and came to prominence at age 15 with the album Age Ain't Nothing But A Number.
On the local scene, three of the nation's most talented singers - Garnett Silk, Jacob Miller, and Keith 'Slim' Smith - died before reaching the age of 30.
Silk, whose silky voice made him a local singing sensation in the 1990s with the album It's Growing and other singles, lost his life at age 28, while attempting to save his mother from her burning house. Jacob Miller, one of Jamaica's brightest stars of the 1970s with hits like Tenement Yard, All Night Till Daylight, Keep On Knocking, and Shaky Girl, died after his motor vehicle slammed into a utility pole along Hope Road in St Andrew on March 23, 1980.
Slim Smith, who was divinely blessed with a vocal talent, died at age 27. Suffering from emotional instability in later years, Smith was sometimes locked in his room at Northumberland Lane, Franklin Town, just a few metres from where I lived. According to his sister, Yvonne, in one of his traumatic attacks, he broke a glass window with his bare hands and bled to death before medical treatment could reach him.