Jamaica’s ‘Cool Ruler’ passes at 59

Reggae fans were hopeful but for weeks many feared the untimely passing of their beloved crooner Gregory Isaacs.

Reportedly, it was confirmed that the 59-year-old Jamaican acclaimed as ‘the cool ruler’ died in London, England on Monday, Oct. 25, 2010.

The father of 11 battled pancreatic cancer and had gone to England for medical attention when his condition worsened.

Rumors of his death had been rampant — going viral on the worldwide internet and repeated on local reggae, radio stations.

At one juncture, Isaacs’ former manager disclaimed the seriousness of his illness attributing the rumors to the fact he had cancelled concerts in Guadeloupe due to a leg ailment. Copeland Forbes said Isaacs was in fact in London but showed deference to a death-bed claim made by media. The day after his death, Forbes allegedly stated that prior to his death, Isaacs requested that singer Marcia Griffiths render the words to Psalms 23.

Last Wednesday on Mutabaruka’s weekly talk show “Cutting Edge,” the poet repeatedly voiced concern about the grave condition rumored throughout the reggae, music industry. Throughout the four hours of his broadcast he pleaded for Isaacs’ brother (a regular caller) to call into the radio station to enlighten listeners.

The call did not come. But Isaacs’ wife allegedly tried to quell rumors saying that “Gregory was resting.”

On hearing the tragic news, Olivia Grange, Jamaica’s Minister of Youth, Sports and Culture with responsibility for entertainment said that the death of the reggae star is the latest in a series of painful losses to the Jamaican entertainment community in recent years.

“Over this period, we have suffered the loss of some of the most creative and committed entertainers that we have produced including Alton Ellis, Roy Shirley, Byron Lee, Desmond Dekker, Brent Dowe and Joe Gibbs.

“These were truly gifted entertainers whose professionalism forced the world to take notice of our music, and created in the environment in which our music and their heirs could gain the wide international acclaim and success that we enjoy today.”

The minister recalled that Isaacs, born in 1951, was a veteran of teen talent contests by the time he got his first recording break from the late Byron Lee in 1968.

After many initial failures, he had teamed with two other vocalists to form the Concords, which lasted until 1970 when he re-launched his solo career initially producing his own records and opening his own record shop.

Grange said Isaacs then produced his first major hit, “My Only Lover”, still regarded by many as the original lover’s rock song and the launch of his world famous, African Museum label.

“So his career was not only about singing: he was a singer, a songwriter,music producer, promoter and recording executive. Few Jamaican artistes can match this versatility, and even fewer were able to succeed in so many areas of entertainment.

“Therefore, we must recall Gregory as one of the great pioneers of our entertainment industry, and thank him for the courage and confidence he passed on to his juniors, in terms of using their own initiatives to overcome the hurdles of the industry. “I mourn his loss as the minister responsible for culture, as a good friend of Gregory and as a fan of good Jamaican music, and hope that his struggle and eventual success will be a model for young Jamaicans in the entertainbment sector to emulate.”

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