Leonard Dillon, Pioneering Reggae Singer, Dies

Leonard Dillon, an influential Jamaican singer and songwriter who founded the pioneering vocal group the Ethiopians, died of cancer on Wednesday, September 28, 2011, at his home in Port Antonio, Jamaica, where he was born in 1942. With The Ethiopians, he was known for songs such as “Hong Kong Flu,” “Fire Deh A Muss Muss Tail,” “Everything Crash,” “Nyah Nuh Want Nuh Baptism,” and “I’m Gonna Take Over Now.” Rob Kenner of The New York Times writes:

Long before artists like Bob Marley and Peter Tosh made reggae music synonymous with social and spiritual uplift, Mr. Dillon had emerged as one of the first Jamaican singers to infuse his songs with Afro-centric themes and sharp-eyed commentary. His body of work mirrored the evolution of Jamaican music, from laid-back mento-flavored folk songs through the horn-driven dance tunes of ska in the ’60s to the smooth rock-steady sound that eventually morphed into the bass-heavy music known as reggae.

Tosh was so taken with Mr. Dillon’s earliest compositions that he introduced him to Marley and the Wailers. They soon brought him to Studio One in Kingston — Jamaica’s first black-owned recording studio and label — where the Wailers sang harmony on Mr. Dillon’s earliest recordings.

Mr. Dillon joined Stephen Taylor and Aston Morris to form a vocal trio called the Ethiopians in 1966, the same year that Haile Selassie, the emperor of Ethiopia, made his first official visit to Jamaica. Selassie was greeted by throngs of ecstatic Rastafarians, members of a Jamaican spiritual movement that saw Selassie as divine and Ethiopia as the promised land.

After Mr. Morris left the trio Mr. Dillon and Mr. Taylor continued as a duo, turning out hits, primarily in the Caribbean during the 1960s, like “Everything Crash,” “The Whip” and “Train to Skaville,” which also found wide popularity in Britain. After Mr. Taylor died in a car accident in 1975, Mr. Dillon recorded on his own as the Ethiopian. Mr. Dillon’s best songs featured a rebellious point of view that paved the way for reggae firebrands like Burning Spear and Culture.

[. . .] Mr. Dillon’s music fell out of favor with the rise of dancehall reggae in the 1980s and ’90s, but he was undeterred. His final project, an unreleased 2009 album called “Original Hit-Makers From Jamaica, Volume 1: Leonard Dillon the Ethiopian,” was an attempt to restore his brand of vintage reggae to prominence.

For obituary articles, see http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/03/arts/music/leonard-dillon-early-reggae-singer-in-the-ethiopians-dies.html,  http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/entertainment/Leonard-Dillon-of-the-Ethiopians-is-dead_9808680  and http://www.billboard.com/news/leonard-dillon-reggae-artist-and-ethiopians-1005378002.story#/news/leonard-dillon-reggae-artist-and-ethiopians-1005378002.story

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