Self-rule was music to one's ears - Bennett

Published: Wednesday | August 5, 2009

Governor General Sir Howard Cooke presents Headley Bennett with the Order of Distinction in the rank of Officer for his contribution to the development of music on National Heroes Day in 2005. - FILE

In August 1962, saxophonist Headley Bennett was a studio musician and member of the Sheiks band, which helped welcome Britain's Princess Margaret at Kingston's Palisadoes Airport.

It would be a matter of days before Queen Elizabeth II's younger sister led the ceremony to make Jamaica an independent country. For Bennett, a past student of the Alpha Boys' School, it was an exciting time.

"It meant a lot. The people were fighting for a change and it finally came. They wanted to be free," Bennett, now 78, told The Gleaner.

Instrumental work

Interestingly, on August 6 when the handover ceremony was taking place, Bennett was at producer Clement Dodd's Studio One in St Andrew recording the instrumental work Independence, a tribute to the occasion.

Born in Kingston, Bennett was sent by his mother to Alpha as a five-year-old and stayed at the Catholic school for 10 years. The school's graduates included Tommy McCook, Johnny Moore, Lester Sterling and the troubled trombonist Don Drummond, who became members of the all-star Skatalites band.

Bennett also made a name as a session player, working for Dodd and rival studios. In 1959, he played on the Leslie Kong-produced Judge Not, the first song by a 17-year-old singer from St Ann named Robert Nesta Marley.


He kept busy throughout the 1960s, blowing on songs now considered Jamaican classics. These include a memorable jazz solo on Delroy Wilson's Dancing Mood, Bob Andy's I've Got To Go Back Home and Satta Massa Gana by The Abyssinians.

For eight years Bennett lived in Canada but was back in Jamaica for good in 1977. While he has observed infrastructural improvement, he says the country continues to lag in a vital area.

"The biggest problem is education. Too much of the people are still illiterate. Is only education can turn this country around," he said.

Known in music circles as 'Deadly Headley', Bennett was awarded the Order of Distinction by the Government for his contribution to Jamaican music in 2005.

- H.C.