Alpha Boys School in Kingston

Karin Wilson (Yardedge) features the Alpha Boys School (located on South Camp Road in Kingston, Jamaica) which has produced some of the finest musicians to come out of Jamaica. As the Alpha School site points out, four of the founding members of the Skatalites were trained at the school. “Founded by the Catholic Sisters of Mercy nuns,” Wilson writes, “it has been the nursery for many of the luminaries of Jamaican jazz, ska and reggae.”

Description: The Alpha Cottage School, also known as the Alpha Boys’ School, was founded in the 1880’s in Central Kingston as a home for wayward boys, providing them with an education and practical training. “In May 1880, Jessie Ripoll, the daughter of a French mother and a Portuguese father, lifted the latch of the gate to a 40-acre property she had purchased with her own money and contributions from friends. With her were two women who were committed to helping Jessie in her work with the poor. Holding tightly to her hand was a little girl who was soon to be homeless no longer. Jessie named the property ‘Alpha’, and this was the beginning of the work of the Sisters of Mercy in Jamaica.”

The musical program of the School matured and gained a unique stature during the jazz-era of the 1940s and ’50s. This period saw the training of the majority of Jamaica’s top hornsmen, many of whom would go on to be instrumental in the development of the island’s first indigenous pop music: ska. Ska’s most famous supergroup was the Skatalites, and four of its founding members—Tommy McCook, Johnny “Dizzy” Moore, Lester Sterling and the internationally-recognized Don Drummond—were all graduates of the Alpha Boys’ School. The Drummond-composed ska instrumental “Eastern Standard Time” (1964) was a perennial favorite for the Jamaican-born Sister Ignatius, who also ran Soundsystem dances for the students at Alpha. Alpha graduates went on to feature prominently in the emerging musical styles of rock steady and then reggae.

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