Jamaica born-and-bred vocalist Ewart Beckford, better known as the reggae artist U-Roy, died on Wednesday, Feb. 17 at his home in Jamaica. He was 78 years old. Respectfully referred to as The Teacher, The Originator or simply Daddy, U-Roy wasn’t the best-known name in Jamaican music among an international audience, yet exerted an incalculable influence on the development of reggae and dancehall and its offshoots, most notably hip-hop.

Born Ewart Beckford, U-Roy grew up in Jones Town and was raised in a religious and musical family. He was influenced by early toaster Count Matchuki and he started his professional career as a DJ in 1961 on Dickie Wong’s sound system (originally called Doctor Dickies later changed to Dickies Dynamic) moving later to the Sir George the Atomic sound system. Beckford then worked on Sir Coxsone Dodd’s sound system where he ran the number two set while King Stitt “The Ugly One” ran the main set.

In 1970, Jamaican singer John Holt, who was the lead vocalist of the Paragons at the time, heard Beckford toasting over a Duke Reid track at a dance. Holt recommended U-Roy, and soon after, an informal recording deal was arranged. Beckford’s first two singles released on Duke Reid’s Treasure Isle label were iconic smash hits. Those singles, Wake the Town (1970) and Wear You to the Ball (1970), dominated the airwaves and established his reputation as one of Jamaica’s most popular toaster

One of his most significant achievements was the establishment of his own sound system which he named Stur Gav after his sons in 1978. The sound system would then launch the careers of a younger generation of toasters and singers including Ranking Joe, Jah Screw, Charlie Chaplin and Josey Wales. In 1980 the pop group Blondie had a world-wide hit with the reggae track The Tide Is High which prompted Virgin to re-release the original Paragons’ track from 1967 and the 1971 U-Roy version as a single that same year. U Roy’s most recent album is Pray Fi Di People which was released in 2012. He was crowned ‘king of deejays’ at the 10th anniversary of Reeewind, a New York-based reggae-dancehall stage show and party. The crown was placed on his head by Grammy Award-winning deejay, Shabba Ranks. Other icons such as David Rodigan and Rory were present at the event. The veteran toaster has been awarded the Order of Distinction for his contribution to Jamaican music.

By AlizeLaVie 02/18/2021