Jamaican Rocksteady Star Alton Ellis Dies in London

Alton Ellis
Alton Ellis
Alton Ellis, a popular Jamaican rocksteady and reggae singer, died October 10 at a London hospital. He was 70.

Alton Ellis was born September 1st of 1940 in Kingston, Jamaica. He began his singing career in the late 1950s, when he partnered Eddie Perkins on a handful of songs for leading Jamaican producer, Clement ‘Coxsone’ Dodd. Soon after, he formed a vocal group, the Flames, that released a series of hugely popular ska and rocksteady singles for Arthur ‘Duke’ Reid.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Ellis recorded hits for a numerous local producers. He also launched his own successful All-tone label. In 1973 Alton Ellis moved to Canada before finally settling in London. In recent years he was rediscovered by reggae fans and participated in numerous festivals.

"The passing of a legend – sadly, one of the greatest voices of ska, rocksteady and reggae is gone," says world music publicist Mark Gorney. "Alton was one of the earliest voices of Jamaican popular music, having cut his first recording in 1959.

I had the opportunity of meeting and interviewing Alton some years ago in connection with a California festival performance and got to know some of the details of his life, including the many hardships he faced over the years and an early vision he had of the ultimate worldwide popularity of Jamaican music, inspired by hearing the Wailers’ "Put It On" at a mid-1960s dance in Trenchtown.

Awarded the Order of Distinction by the Jamaican government, Alton was a humble, gracious gentleman who will be missed both personally and for his lasting contributions to Jamaican music."

Ellis is survived by his wife and more than 20 children, including reggae singers Noel Ellis and Christopher Ellis.


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