Jamaica awards Dennis Brown with national honor

October 20, 2011 - 2:51 PM
Jamaica Dennis Brown

FILE - In this Dec. 12, 1998 file photo, the late reggae musician Dennis Brown performs at the Countryside Club in Kingston, Jamaica. A former child star who became known as the Crown Prince of Reggae, Brown was posthumously conferred Monday, Oct. 17, 2011, with the island's highest civic honor, the Order of Distinction, for his musical contributions. (AP Photo/The Jamaica Observer, File)

KINGSTON, Jamaica (AP) — Jamaica on Monday awarded the late reggae singer Dennis Brown with one of its highest civic honors, a fitting tribute for a musician who is more beloved than Bob Marley among many Jamaican reggae fans.

Some 12 years after his death, the former child star who became known as the Crown Prince of Reggae was posthumously conferred with the Caribbean island's Order of Distinction for his contributions to reggae, which has played a huge role in Jamaica's culture and economy.

Brown's widow, Yvonne, attended the National Honors and Awards ceremony in Kingston, where the late entertainer was honored along with living awardees, including singers Millie Small and Ralph "Dobby" Dobson.

Junior Lincoln, chairman of a charitable trust named after Brown that is devoted to preserving his work and memory, said the late singer from gritty downtown Kingston is revered by Jamaicans due to his warm personality and honeyed singing voice with a unique vibrato.

"We've spent about 10 years trying to get him honored in this way," said Lincoln, a veteran of Jamaica's music industry who helped promote Brown's music in England.

Brown, who died at 42 of respiratory ailments, rose to prominence during the 1970s wave of reggae singers that included Marley, whose music introduced the Jamaican genre to listeners worldwide. He released more than 50 albums and a long string of hits, beginning with "No Man is an Island," which he recorded in 1969 at the age of 12.

Roger Steffens, a reggae archivist, said Brown was "seen as truly one of the masses, born and raised in the heart of the downtown Kingston ghetto."

"He grew to maturity with the country itself, and many people saw themselves in Dennis, especially in the light of his struggles with drugs, which were well known in the reggae world," Steffens said in an e-mail.

He recorded his first work at Clement 'Coxsone' Dodd's famed Studio One, the island's first black-owned music studio which launched the careers of dozens of reggae legends, including Marley, Lee "Scratch" Perry, and Freddie McGregor.

By the mid-1970s, Brown had become one of the island's most popular performers.

His hits include 'Wolves and Leopards,' 'Here I Come,' and 'Revolution.' He worked with a who's who of Jamaican producers during reggae's 1970s and '80s golden age, including Joe Gibbs, Sly & Robbie, and Derrick Harriott.

After Brown died in 1999, more than 10,000 Jamaicans streamed into a Kingston theater to view his body. He became the first entertainer to be buried at National Heroes Park, a cemetery reserved for Jamaica's most notable figures.

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