Foundation singer Leo Graham dies at 80

A report by Yasmine Peru for Jamaica’s Gleaner.

Foundation singer Leo Graham, who began his recording career as the lead vocalist of the Jamaican trio known as the Bleechers, has died. His son, Daweh Congo, told The Gleaner that Graham, who was being treated for cancer, passed away on December 19 at a hospital in Trelawny. He was 80.

“My father was diagnosed with prostate cancer some time in 2007, but it seemed as if it was a misdiagnosis. He was treated for it for five years and then realised that he didn’t have it. Afterwards, the doctors said Papa had leukaemia and then a brain tumour. He stopped walking, and I think that’s why he died,” Daweh Congo, who is also a singer, shared.

The sixth of Graham’s 11 children, he described his father as a fiercely independent man who “carried [him] everywhere like his guitar,” and who taught him everything, including etiquette.

“Anybody who knows my father knows that he is very independent, so when he could no longer walk, that was a problem. Papa didn’t look like 80, and people were surprised to know that ‘Mr Leo’ was so old. I thank God that he made it to 80; I got to spend some quality time with him. Papa was my heart and soul. I didn’t meet my mother until I was 21, but Papa gave me eight stepmothers. He was a ladies’ man; I won’t say a rolling stone,” Daweh Congo said with a smile.

With his group, the Bleechers, which also comprised Wesley Martin and a singer known only as Sammy, Graham recorded songs such as What’s Wrong With YouCheck Him OutEverything For FunCome Into My ParlourMy Little Sandra and Ease Up. Formed at the end of the ‘60s, their main producers were Joe Gibbs and Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry. However, Graham left the group and went solo; the story is that there was a leadership struggle, and he walked away. He continued doing songs for Gibbs and Perry and had a hit with the catchy single, A Win Them.

According to his bio, “Graham’s vocals on Perry’s recordings have been described as quavery, bleating and distinctly rural. Graham’s first record with Perry was a song he had written criticising obeah religion called Black Candle.” Other songs for Perry included VoodooismWant A WineThree Blind Mice and Revelation Time.

Daweh Congo recalls going to Perry’s Black Ark studio with his father, but he was so young at the time that he couldn’t understand much of what was happening. He also remembers his father playing his own songs at home, as well as those by Alton Ellis.

Graham took a break from the music business for more than two decades and found other ways to care for his growing family. “He was a duco man by trade, and a few times I would help him to sandpaper down the cars. But that was when I didn’t have school, because Papa was big on education. He always had a car, and he would take us on trips to the country, and we would stop and buy roast yam and salt fish,” the Coconut Chalice singer said.

In 2007, Graham emerged from his self-imposed hiatus and again made his mark musically. “He completed an album and did his first extensive tour of Brazil,” Daweh Congo shared.

Originally from Trelawny, Graham relocated to Kingston in the early ‘60s and lived with his aunt on Regent Street. A nine-night celebration was hosted last Monday on Lyndhurst Road, and a thanksgiving service will be held in January at a date to be announced.

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