Saturday, November 08, 2008
Bandleader, producer, studio owner, and Jamaican musical icon Byron Lee passed away November 4 after a battle with cancer, according to a post on his website. He was 73. Lee formed his famed band the Dragonaires in 1957 and kept the group going in one form or another for the next five decades to come. During the 1960s and 70s, he helped bring the sound of Jamaica -- including ska, rock steady, reggae, and soca music -- to a much wider audience both at home and abroad, though such hits as "Jamaica Ska", "Tiney Winey" and "Dancehall Soca", as well as his work as a producer and studio head. Lee and the Dragonaires appeared in the very first James Bond
film, 1962's Dr. No and Lee, along with several other Jamaican luminaries, were sent to showcase the unique sound of the island's music at New York's 1964-65 World's Fair. Lee insisted on a certain dapper look and reasonable behavior from his Dragonaires bandmates, and would later boast that "I am pleased to say that in all my years of touring we have never had any incident involving a member of my band whilst on tour." In addition to his own musical endeavors, Lee was also a serious businessman. In 1965, Lee created Lee Enterprises, which went on to produce hit
shows in Jamaica for the likes of James Brown, Al Green, the Drifters, and others. In 1968, he bought West Indies Records, renamed it Dynamic Studios and set up one of the island's most well-appointed studios, recording artists such as the Rolling
Stones, David Bowie, Paul Simon, and Bob Marley. Dynamic Sounds was also involved with distributing foreign records to North American and European audiences. In 1990, Lee launched the annual Byron Lee Jamaica Carnival in Kingston, which went on to become one of the nation's largest music events. He and the Dragonaires performed and recorded up until the very end; indeed, they were scheduled to play in Sunrise,
Florida this coming Sunday, according to the Miami Herald. On Tuesday, Jamaica's current Prime Minister Bruce Golding said of Lee's passing, "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".
Posted by Michael Godin at 5:20 PM