By Baldwin S. A. Howe


byron-lee-1.jpg Reggae Times regrets to have to report that veteran musician and bandleader, Byron Lee is dead.  He died yesterday at the University Hospital of the West Indies.


Byron Lee, considered a shrewd and astute businessperson, is the pioneering bandleader of the popular, Byron Lee and Dragonaires band, which he formed in 1956.  Mr. Lee who was 73, has been, over the years, fighting transitional cell cancer and has received treatment in Miami, Florida, on several occasions.  He was recently further diagnosed with having bladder cancer.


 Hailed as a pioneer, Byron Lee celebrated a career that spans over 50 years.  Lee’s musical sojourn started when he learned to play the piano at an early age.  His interest in music took a pause, as he grew older and gravitated to sports.  Byron Lee later became a member of the Jamaica National Football team.  While being in this athletic phase he still found time for his music, which led to him teaching himself to play the bass, (this he did on a homemade bass he built.).  In 1950, He, along with his good friend, Carl Brady, put together the ‘skeleton’ of the Dragonaires band and began to perform at ‘gigs’ in and around their up-town communities.

Byron Lee and the Dragonaires came together officially in 1956, and from then went on to become one of the island’s top musical aggregations. The Dragonaires became one of Jamaica’s leading Ska bands and later gravitated to embrace other musical genres, such as, Reggae, Calypso, Soca and Mas among a few others.


 Byron Lee was actually in the contest for the title of leading the longest surviving band.  , (the current titleholder on record is the Mick Jagger led Rolling Stones, sprouted in the 1960s.).  Lee and his band are among the first set of leading Jamaican musicians who have assisted in making Jamaican music a major phenomenon worldwide. In the 1960s, Byron Lee and the Dragonaires along with a team of Jamaicans, including dancers, made the trip to the New York World’s Fair, thereby being among the first set of musical ambassadors from Jamaica.  At that time, the mission was to expose the world to the Jamaica invented, “Ska” music.  In 1990, after being a major ‘star attraction‘ at other Caribbean countries’ annual Carnival events he introduced, “Jamaica Carnival” to the nation .


Some of Byron Lee’s chart-topping hit songs from the Ska genre are, “Dumplings”, “Jamaica Ska”, and “Soul Ska.” Some later hits done in the Soca genre are, “Tiney-Winey”, “Tatie”, “Soca Butterfly”, “What A Feeling”, “Whine Down”, and “Soca Bogle” among many others.


Byron Lee was recently the receipient of the, “Order of Jamaica” honour during a special ceremony held at his bedside at University Hospital of the West Indies.  The Governor General, Sir Kenneth and Prime Minister Bruce Golding personally conferred the honour on him.  The Order of Jamaica is the nation’s fourth-highest honour.  Lee also received the Order of Distinction is 1982.  The Jamaican Government later upgraded this honour to Commander Class in 2007. 


Byron Lee is survived by his wife, Sheila; his sons. Byron Jr., and Edward John; his daughters, Deanna, Judith, Julianne, and Danielle; as well as his grandchildren, Amelia, Alexander, Jessica, Victoria, Amanda, Jaden and Dylan.


Reggae Times would like to join the many people worldwide in extending our condolences to Byron Lee’s immediate family and to express that all music loving people will sadly miss him.


Leave a Reply

Translate »