Despite earlier rumours of his death, Jamaica awoke this morning to the news of the passing of the legendary Byron Lee. Lee, bandleader of the Dragonaires, died at the University Hospital of the West Indies yesterday, November 4, 2008, after a two year battle with cancer.
Although the news was received in the shadow of the historic US elections, the tributes began pouring forth for a man whose career spanned more than 50 years and is credited with being one of the leading musicians to bring Jamaican music to the world.
Lee was recently awarded with the Order of Jamaica during a special ceremony at the hospital. He was given the award by Governor General Sir Kenneth Hall and the Prime Minister for his contribution to Jamaican music. The Order of Jamaica is the nation's fourth-highest honour. Lee was awarded the Order of Distinction (Officer class) in 1982. That honour was upgraded to Commander class in 2007.
On hearing of Lee's death, the Prime Minister of Jamaica, Bruce Golding, was quoted as saying:
Jamaica, and indeed the world, have lost another great music pioneer with the passing this morning of Byron Lee, one of the greatest bandleaders ever to grace the entertainment stages of the world.
At the Caribbean Beat blog, writer Caroline Neisha reflected on an article written by Garry Steckles in a 2003 issue of the Caribbean Beat magazine, in which Steckles described a performance he witnessed in England:
…Lee, bandleader and musical opportunist extraordinary, had chalked up another in a long line of successes at doing what he does best — getting a crowd, any crowd, anywhere, any time, on its collective feet and dancing.
YardFlex.com extended condolences “to the entire family and all who loved this great man who has made his country Jamaica extremely proud”:
Old folk say the time eventually comes when many memorial services become the order of the day. Well for Jamaican music veterans, it appears to be that appointed time these days.
And this is how the Honourable Byron Lee Sr., OJ will be remembered – not just as a musician, bandleader, promoter, label owner, studio owner, icon, legend, musical pioneer, but as a man who, as his daughter said, “was always working to use music to unite persons of all ages, races and people from all walks of life.”
Byron's Lee's music did indeed touch people from all walks of life – and from all parts of the Caribbean. Trinidad and Tobago-based Caribbean Free Radio posted a photo of Lee in his element – on stage – along with a simple but heartfelt headline:
Farewell, Byron Lee…