Kingstown, Jamaica: The world has been remembering Byron Lee on his birthday day – June 27. Many musicians have been paying tribute to the Jamaican musician and record producer on this occasion.
Reggae Jamaica Jamaicalso took his social media account to show his love towards the veteran musician. He introduced Lee to the world and shared his life story.
“Byron Lee, born Byron Aloysius St Elmo Lee (June 27 1935 – November 4 2008), was a Jamaican musician, record producer, and entrepreneur, best known for his work as leader of Byron Lee and the Dragonaires,” he stated while outlining about the great Jamaican musician.
Lee was born in Christiana, Manchester Parish, Jamaica, to a Chinese-Jamaican mother, Evelyn Chung, and a Chinese father, Oscar Lee, a language teacher originally from Kowloon, Hong Kong. The family moved to the Mountain View Gardens area of Kingston when Lee was around 8 or 9 years old, according to celebsagewiki.
He learned to play the piano at a convent school in Mandeville but put music on hold when he was selected to the Jamaica national football team. He taught himself to play bass on a homemade instrument, and around 1950, along with his friend Carl Brady, he formed the first incarnation of the Dragonaires, named after the college football team that they played for, at that time concentrating on mento. The band turned professional in 1956 and went on to become one of Jamaica’s leading ska bands, continuing since and taking in other genres such as calypso, Soca, and Mas.
According to Michael E. Veal in his book Dub: soundscapes and shattered songs in Jamaican Reggae, Wesleyan University Press, 2007), Byron Lee is known to have introduced the electric bass guitar to Jamaica in late 1959 or 1960. However, the reason Lee began to use the electric bass as opposed to the double bass had nothing to do with sound. Rather, it was a way for Lee to avoid carrying the large and heavy double bass to the truck to move from gig to gig.
The bass guitar soon gained popularity throughout the country and soon became the standard. The electric bass’s louder, clearer, and more in-your-face sound soon changed the entire sound of Jamaican music entirely, especially after Skatalites bassist Lloyd Brevett took a liking to it.
He and his band, The Dragonaires, are featured in the first James Bond movie, Dr No, set in and around Kingston, Jamaica, in 1962. They are prominently seen playing “Jamaica Jump Up” on the bandstand at Pussfeller’s calypso bar.
Lee also worked as a producer, producing many of the ska singles by The Maytals, and his entrepreneurial skills led to him setting up Byron Lee’s Spectacular Show tour, which involved several Jamaican acts (including The Maytals) touring the Caribbean. He also became the head of distribution in Jamaica for Atlantic Records. Lee purchased the West Indies Records Limited (WIRL) recording studios from Edward Seaga after the fire had destroyed the pressing plant on the same site and renamed it Dynamic Sounds, soon having a new pressing facility built on the site.
It soon became one of the best-equipped studios in the Caribbean, attracting both local and international recording artists, including Paul Simon and The Rolling Stones, who recorded their famous song “Angie” there. Lee’s productions included Boris Gardiner’s Reggae Happening, Hopeton Lewis’s Grooving Out on Life, and The Slickers’ “Johnny Too Bad”. Dynamic also acts as one of Jamaica’s leading record distributors.
In 1990, Lee inaugurated what became an annual event, Jamaica Carnival, held on Constant Spring Road and attended by hundreds of thousands of people that united the “uptown” and “downtown” residents of Kingston, an event that Lee called “the happiest moment in my life”.
Lee missed the Jamaica Carnival in 2007 as he was receiving treatment for bladder cancer after having surgery in Florida and no longer appeared on stage with the Dragonaires, although he was still involved in the band’s management and was involved with the festival again in 2008. A concert was held in his honour on June 30 2007, to celebrate his 50 years in the music industry, with artists performing, including fellow cancer survivors Myrna Hague and Pluto Shervington. Proceeds went to the Jamaica Cancer Society.
Lee was awarded the Order of Distinction in 1982, upgraded to Commander-level on October 15 2007, in recognition of his “contribution in the fields of Music and Entertainment both locally and internationally”.
In October 2008, after receiving treatment for several weeks in Florida, Lee returned to spend his final days in Jamaica. In a ceremony at the University Hospital of the West Indies on October 26 2008, he was awarded the Order of Jamaica. Lee died from bladder cancer in Kingston on November 4 2008, aged 73. In a statement on the day of Lee’s death, the Prime Minister of Jamaica, Bruce Golding, said, “Jamaica, and indeed the world, has lost another great music pioneer with the passing this morning of Byron Lee, one of the greatest band leaders ever to grace the entertainment stages of the world”.