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Jamaica: Farewell to the Dragon – Byron Lee

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.

For those less familiar with the work of Byron Lee and the Dragonaires, Iriegyal of A Fe Me Page Dis Iyah, shared two videos from YouTube

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…

7 comments

  • Farah

    Such sad news.
    We here in Canada feel great remorse for the loss of Byron Lee.
    I found an article in Exclaim! magazine’s website with a great memorial to the late Lee.

    http://www.exclaim.ca/articles/generalarticlesynopsfullart.aspx?csid1=127&csid2=844&fid1=34678

    -F

  • pat

    we caribbean people living in the usa feels sadden by the news of byron lee’s passing.
    he will be greatly missed

  • Ann

    I was looking for the next tour schedule and found this article. This is so very sad and Byron Lee will be greatly missed by all of us who enjoyed his energetic. Much respect to his family.

  • Raymond Koker

    Sierra Leoneans at home and abroad will greatly miss the legendary entertainer, Byron Lee. My countrymen would agree with me that Byron entertained our nation, young and old, with his #1 hits on our chart over the past decades. Condolences, love & respect to his family. IRIE

  • […] musicians Alton Ellis and Byron Lee and Guyanese newspaper editor David de Caires, who Nicholas Laughlin describes as “the […]

  • Merilyn Phillips

    I continue to mourn the passing of my musical hero, Byron Lee, aka Dragon. As I play his music, I either cry or dance, or both. I so wanted Byron Lee to stay around much longer. I prayed and prayed for his recovery. DAMN cancer!! A man who brought so much joy to the world should not have had his life end so painfully. I play his music full volume in my car and get many inquieries from folks, who have not had the pleasure of knowing this ledgend, ask “Who is that?”. I let them know it is the one and only Byron Lee. They always reply, “That’s beautiful music”. Ya betta believe dat! Dragon, your music gets more beautiful the more I listen. Rest in Peace my dear friend. Your #1 Soca Junkie, Merilyn / Cayman Islands

  • Merilyn Phillips

    To this day, Feb 18th, 2011, I still have people coming to me, in south Florida, asking if the Byron Lee I’ve written about on my car window, (\REMEMBERING BYRON LEE….THANKS FOR THE BEAUTIFUL MUSIC\), is the musical legend from Jamaica. Many still are unaware he is no longer with us.
    I remember my musical hero everyday and his music will live on forever.

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