Celebrating Jamaica’s influence on UK gospel
With the 50th anniversary celebrations of Jamaica’s independence looming near, Juliet Fletcher looks at the contribution of Jamaicans to the UK gospel scene.
“If it wasn’t for Jamaicans, we wouldn’t have UK gospel.” This is exemplified in the history of British gospel, which features Jamaicans at its start (in the 50s), and throughout the thirty years I have witnessed the scene first-hand! In celebration of my fellow countrymen, here are just a few of the long list of Jamaicans who have made a difference on the Brit scene.
I cannot express the extent of my delight when the Lord led me to meet Bishop Kenneth McCarthy – the real ‘father of British gospel’ – who, at over eighty, is still preaching and travelling between the UK and JA, while he runs a charitable farming project to help Jamaicans living in extreme poverty.
Bishop McCarthy arrived in the UK from Jamaica in the early 1950s as an evangelist. He was the first person to manage and systematically take singers and groups around the UK and to numerous countries – like Sweden, Holland, Norway. This included the Soul Seekers, a group of teenage Jamaican musicians, and Jamaican soloist Evangelist Icilda Cameron, who is still a powerful singer today. Back then, she was also a lead singer for the late Pastor LaTouche’s Touring Harmonizers – all Jamaicans!
At one point the Soul Seekers included Roy Francis on keyboards. Roy comes from what I call ‘Gospel Music Royalty’. He was the main producer of the groundbreaking weekly TV series, ‘People Get Ready’ (PGR), which brought the burgeoning UK gospel scene into millions of homes. Today, he represents major acts like Muyiwa and Lurine Cato. His youngest brother is John Francis, Bishop and Senior Pastor of Ruach. John was co-presenter of PGR alongside the wonderful Juliet Coley (also of Jamaican parentage). Inspirational by nature, John led the Choir of the same name to international performance and chart success. Today he’s an influence across generations, and acts as a mentor to up-and-coming artists/leaders.
Another member of gospel music royalty is Nicky Brown, arguably British gospel’s most prolific music producer. Since the age of sixteen, he has been recording albums which sign-post the key stages of our success. One of my favourites is Soul Stirrings Nu Inspirational, released on Island Records’ 4th & Broadway label.
He also produced the debut album, ‘Intervention’, for sensational vocalist Lavine Hudson, achieving a Top 40 hit. Lavine, like Nicky, is from a strong Jamaican family in the Church Of God In Christ. Although not performing much today, she epitomised the success of gospel’s golden period of the 1980s. Lavine was the first female gospel soloist to sign a contract with a major label (Virgin Music), and to garner success in the US.
As a child of the Windrush generation, Noel Robinson has often spoken openly of his Jamaican/UK heritage, and how it impacts the music he creates. Founder and strategic leader of Kingdom Worship Movement, he’s now transforming the way Christian worship leaders of all cultures and ethnicities are collaborating.
A musical child prodigy, Steve Thompson was surrounded by many peers whose Jamaican parents had also settled into the New Testament Church of God, West Midlands. Credited producer/arranger and music director for world-renowned Graham Kendrick’s many March For Jesus albums, today he works with indigenous church groups all over the world, including Jewish and Chinese Christians, who have discovered the power of Pentecostal Praise.
Another Jamaican making a difference in gospel today is Adelaide Mackenzie, the Queen of Blessed Souls, a social club night event that for the past five years has given first-time opportunities and exposure to a generation of contemporary self-made artists.
Using ragga-infused music and lyrics, David Williams aka Watchman’s transformed life from crime to Christ has made him become an incredible mentor and role model to youngpeople. Watchman has led the way in combining his faith and music to make a difference in the lives of young men.
I must stick a prickly pin here: BECAUSE early Jamaican Christians rejected the Caribbean sounds, it created a lot of difficulties for young artists like Watchman, and delayed some of the transformative work that a generation could have positively exploited. Conversely, senior ranks of our African brethren seem to have no problem with using traditional sounds – eg. Afro-Beats and more – and the benefits are apparent.
But, to end on a happy note, last but certainly not least, acknowledgment goes to the one and only Marcia Dixon. She has got to be mentioned….a true black, green and gold at heart, Marcia has been dedicated to reporting on the gospel music scene for over twenty years. Do you see how much poorer we would be without the wealth of knowledge and information her millions of words have give us about ourselves over the years?
Hopefully, this reflection will help make August 6 mean so much more to us all.
Juliet Fletcher runs Greentree, a gospel music development company. Phone 07535 964442 or email firstname.lastname@example.org