Fri | Jun 2, 2023

Lester Sterling of Skatalites fame has died

Published:Wednesday | May 17, 2023 | 12:25 PMYasmine Peru/Senior Gleaner Writer
Lester Sterling, the only surviving member of the Skatalites, performing at the Independence Ball at the New York Marriott Marquis Hotel.
Saxophonist Lester Sterling performing at the Independence Ball at the New York Marriott Marquis Hotel.

Lester Sterling, Jamaican saxophonist and founding member of the legendary band, The Skatalites, passed away on Tuesday in the United States, after ailing for some time.

Minister of Culture, Gender Entertainment and Sport, Olivia Grange, made the announcement at the launch of Junior Reid’s One Blood concert at the Jamaica Pegasus hotel Tuesday evening. The minister informed the gathering that it was Sterling’s wish to be buried in the land of his birth.

“Lester Sterling, one of the original members of the Skatalites passed this morning early in the US. It was just the day before I was having a discussion about him. I had been called by former Prime Minister PJ Patterson to say that Lester Sterling was not in good shape and they were expecting him to pass at any time but he wanted his remains to come back to Jamaica. That’s how committed and nationalistic he was about his country. And, Mr Patterson wanted to know if I could make the arrangements for this to happen. And, I told him ‘Yes’. So when I got the word this morning that he had passed, I had already put some things in place,” Minister Grange shared.

Lester Sterling was 87.

“I just want to use the opportunity to express my condolences to his family and to say that we will be bringing his remains back to Jamaica and we will have him interred here,” Grange added.

On Tuesday, the band, through its Facebook page, informed fans of Sterling’s passing.

“It’s a sad day for all of us with the passing of our legendary founder and original saxophonist Lester ‘Ska’ Sterling. Our heart goes out to the family, the fans and to all who were very close to him. We celebrate his greatness and his contribution of being one of the pioneers of Ska and reggae music. He has left a legacy for now and future generations to follow and we will continue to preserve it stage by stage.”

Sterling was the last remaining member of the original Skatalites hornsmen. In 1988, he was awarded the order of distinction for his contribution to the popularisation of ska and reggae music.

The founders of the Skatalites were musicians Doreen Shaffer; Tommy McCook (died 1998); Rolando Alphonso (died 1998); Lester Sterling (died 2023); Lloyd Brevett (died 2012); Lloyd Knibb (died 2011); Don Drummond (died 1969); Jah Jerry Haynes (died 2007); Jackie Mittoo (died 1990); and Johnny Moore (died 2008).

The Skatalites played initially between 1963 and 1965, and recorded many of their best known songs in the period, including Guns of Navarone. They also played on records by Prince Buster and backed many other Jamaican artistes who recorded during that period, including Bob Marley & The Wailers, on their first single Simmer Down.

They reformed in 1983 and have played together ever since.