the Godfather of ROCKSTEADY DIES

Alton Ellis was regarded by many connoisseurs as the most consummate Jamaican vocalist of the 1960s when he recorded some masterful albums in the ska and rocksteady styles that preceded reggae.

Alton Ellis was regarded by many connoisseurs as the most consummate Jamaican vocalist of the 1960s when he recorded some masterful albums in the ska and rocksteady styles that preceded reggae.

With his powerful, yearning voice, he also had a particular gift for taking American soul and R&B songs and giving them a uniquely Jamaican character.

One of his finest albums was titled Mr Soul of Jamaica. He was also feted with the sobriquet the Godfather of Rocksteady.

His popularity declined in the 1970s and he moved first to Canada and then to Britain.

But there was no silencing his majestic voice. He continued to make fine records and his popularity was dramatically revived in the 1990s when the rocksteady style he epitomised enjoyed a revival.

His finest work remains part of the bedrock of Jamaican music and has been much sampled, referenced, adapted and recycled by other artists.

Born in 1938 in Kingston, Jamaica, he learnt to play the piano at a young age, briefly sought fame by entering talent contests as a dancer and began his recording career in 1959, when he teamed up with the singer Eddy Perkins in the duo Alton and Eddie.

On their first hit, Muriel, they were backed by Clue J's Blues Blasters, and though recorded in rudimentary fashion with band and singers competing to be heard through a single microphone, the song exudes tremendous atmosphere.

Ellis recalled years later: "It was a one-track studio and when they count '1, 2, 3, 4', everybody have to be there. Who is not there the train is gone!"

The two singers soon went their separate ways for solo careers.

Perkins moved to the US and Ellis went on to record for not only Coxsone Dodd at Studio One but also for his main rival, Duke Reid.

By 1966 the rhythms of ska were slowing down and giving way to a more refined and syncopated sound in which the singers took prominence over the instrumentalists.

The new rhythm became known as "rocksteady" and Ellis was its unchallenged master from the moment he and Reid cut Girl I've Got a Date, often credited as the first hit record in the new style.

Alton, 71, who died on October 10, is survived by his wife, Judith, and a large number of children. - The Times News Service, London

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