Known as the Originator, U-Roy wasn’t the first DJ, nor even the first to cut a record, but he was the first to shake the nation and he originated a style so distinctly unique that he single-handedly changed his homeland’s music scene forever. Born Ewart Beckford in Jones Town, Jamaica, in 1942, he received his famous moniker from a young family member unable to correctly pronounce Ewart and the nickname stuck.

U-Roy’s musical career began in 1961 when he began deejaying at various sound systems, including a stint operating Sir Coxsone Dodd’s number two set, while King Stitt “The Ugly One” ran the main set, eventually working in the late 1960s with King Tuddy, at Duke Reid’s Sound System. Tubby was then experimenting with his equipment, in the process of inventing dub music. With U-Roy as his most prominent deejay and with access to some of the Treasure Isle Studios’ finest Rocksteady rhythms, King Tubby’s new sound became extraordinarily popular and U-Roy became a Jamaican celebrity. However, his first single was “Earth’s Rightful Ruler”, recorded with Peter Tosh for Lee Perry. He recorded Dynamic Fashion Way, his first successful recording, in 1969 for Keith Hudson and then worked with almost every producer on the island: Lee Perry, Peter Tosh, Bunny Lee, Phil Pratt, Sonia Pottinger, Rupie Edwards and Lloyd Daley.

In 1975, U-Roy teamed up once again with Bunny Lee, cutting a number of songs with the producer. In 1983, the Vista Sounds label released remixes of these cuts as DJ Masterpiece, which also boasts tracks by other DJs, U-Roy amongst them, recorded for the producer. Now the reigning hero of the Jamaican DJ scene, U-Roy would come to international attention via a totally unexpected source. The American soul-lite duo Hall and Orates surprisingly enough recorded a cover of the DJ’s hit “Soldering” on their eponymous album. This prompted the Virgin label to sign him and, paired with producer Prince Tony Robinson, U-Roy recorded his debut album (Dread Inna Babylon), backed by the Skin Flesh and Bones Band. The following year’s Natty Rebel, again with Robinson at the helm, found the DJ now backed by the rootsy rhythms or Lloyd Parks and Sly Dunbar, and accompanied by a pair of singers.

U-Roy was now reaching the peak of his power. His toasts were utterly relaxed and conversational, yet always in perfect synchronicity with the rhythms. The DJ had now gained a significant following in the U.K., as well, and in August 1976, visited Britain for the first time. He performed at the London Lyceum, backed by the always-excellent Revolutionaries and the 1978 Live EP was drawn from this phenomenal show. Back in Jamaica, U-Roy began recording his new album, Rasta Ambassador, filling the studio with musicians and singers, 15 strong in all. The Gladiators provided particularly sonorous backing vocals, while the band, led by the rhythm team of Sly and Robbie created a deep roots sound appropriate to the album’s title and accentuated by Robinson’s deeply dubby production.

In the run-up to the 1980 election, Stur-Gav fell victim to the violence that swept Jamaica and the sound system was destroyed. Undeterred, U-Roy relaunched it the following year and brought in new DJs, including up and coming stars Josey Wales and Chaplin. U-Roy would collaborate with the former for the entertaining Teacher Meets the Students, whose tracks date from around this period. But perhaps the DJ was taking on too much between his sound system, labels, and live appearances, for his next album, Love Is not a showed a sharp decline in standards. U-Roy seemed to recognize this and subsequently his recorded output slowed to a trickle of singles. He did, however, continue to perform live and on-stage, and his power remained undiminished.

U-Roy had become one of the island’s biggest stars by the early 1980s, also garnering significant acclaim in the United Kingdom. His most recent album is called SERIOUS MATTER. U Roy was awarded the Order of Distinction in the rank of Officer on October 15, 2007 in Jamaica

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