Blind performers no 'poor likkle ting'
As the United States celebrates the genius of persons like Ray Charles and Stevie Wonder, Jamaican popular music history also boasts its own arsenal of visually impaired or blind musical successes.
As Fab Five and Unique Vision bands carry on in this contemporary space, foundation member of Fab Five, multi-instrumentalist and singer Asley 'Grub' Cooper, said, "When I was in Fab Five I was studying agriculture. Frankie Campbell worked in Customs for a while, did some acting, and his parents wanted him to attend McGill University. He could have done art as a regular person. It's not that we couldn't do anything else but music. Some people think that it's a final choice."
Cooper, who is visually impaired, took an example from the life of Roy Richards, who was blind. "Richards played the harmonica and he played extremely well. He played to a standard never heard before in Jamaica," Cooper said. "When Roy Richards would perform, people would throw money to him; sighted persons would throw money on the stage, and to an extent that is how he lived, because at the time, the perception of people with disabilities, the comment would be 'Lawd, poor likkle ting'."
It has gradually dissipated but there is still that 'poor likkle ting' mentality that pervades the society, Cooper continued. He hailed Queen Ifrica's father, Derrick Morgan, who is now blind. He didn't begin his career with visual impairment. "He recorded more than Richards, at Sir Coxsone Dodd's Studio One. He has at least 20 solid hit records," Cooper said.
There was also Roland McFarlane, who went to the Salvation Army School for the Blind. He wasn't totally blind. McFarlane ended up going to live on the north coast, where he worked in the hotel industry as a harmonica player and a singer. "But maybe it was the 'poor likkle ting' mentality that got him to work in the hotel," Cooper told The Sunday Gleaner.
Cooper retold the tale of Adina Edwards, who played the accordion (or what some called a flutina). "And she sang. She used to be on King Street where the bulk of people work - the Mecca of shopping. Everybody was on King Street," Cooper said.
She didn't perform on shows like her contemporaries. "If you didn't perform at Carib Cinema, Regal Cinema, State Theatre and, to a lesser extent, Ward Theatre back in the day, then you wouldn't have performed very much on the big stage. The theatres is where you had the live shows. It's not like now where you have a lot of big shows," Cooper shared.
The streets were Adina's, but she, too, became a success. Edwards was eventually signed by Byron Lee and became a household name because of her recordings. "It's just the human spirit - the will to live, the will to survive regardless of the circumstances. It's either you roll over and die or you step up," Cooper said.