Another Jamaican legend dies

Just some four years ago, these pages mourned the passing of Gregory Anthony Isaacs, a reggae legend known as ‘The Cool Ruler’ who had released over 500 albums in a career spanning four decades.

Now another reggae maestro John Kenneth Holt, who was born on July 11, 1947, died on October 19.

What is intriguing is that both Isaacs and Holt died in the city of London and in the month of October. What is even more fascinating is that these deaths come four years apart. Before Isaacs, Joseph ‘Culture’ Hill died after collapsing following a performance in Berlin on 19 August, 2006.

Today I will, however, talk of the legendary reggae icon John Holt who had been battling ill-health for a long time and collapsed on stage during a performance at the One Love concert in London, after which he underwent surgery and was recovering. Many Malawians knew Holt because of the track ‘Police in a Helicopter”.

However, those of you who like the UK band UB40 will remember how this band enthralled you with their hits including ‘Stick by Me’. This track was composed by Holt, no wonder UB40 mourned him by saying that Holt was a “massive inspiration and will be sorely missed”.

This well-loved vocalist is also the one who composed the ‘The Tide Is High’ whose cover became a global hit for the American rock band, Blondie.

Described by The Guardian as the honey-voiced Jamaican singer and songwriter, John Holt – just like Gregory Isaacs and many Jamaican singers of his generation – came to lime-light through the island’s talent show circuit which put its contestants up on the stage and gave them national radio coverage.

Holt entered his first contest at the age of 12 and won 28 titles over the next four years before launching his recording career with a self-penned debut single Forever I’ll stay/I Cried a Tear released in 1963.

Holt first found success as the lead singer of reggae group, The Paragons, replacing original front man Leroy Stamp after making a name for himself on the talent show circuit.

He left The Paragons in 1970 to focus on his solo career. ‘Stick By Me’, his most successful solo effort, became the biggest selling Jamaican record of 1972.

The Guardian, however, says the reggae singer and songwriter will be remembered for his enduringly popular album ‘1000 Volts of Holt’ and for being responsible for some of the greatest moments in reggae during a career spanning more than 50 years.

Cover versions of easy listening hits from ‘1000 Volts of Holt’ still sell in great numbers today even though the album was first released in 1973.

“The enduringly popular ‘1000 Volts of Holt’, recorded in Jamaica and London, gave the reggae treatment to classic romantic compositions such as ‘Girl from Ipanema’, ‘Mr. Bojangles’ and ‘Touch Me in the Morning’. As a project it was, on the face of it, unlikely to meet with approval either from devotees of a music form usually given to addressing the harsh realities of Jamaican life, or from a more mainstream global audience, pre-Bob Marley, that was largely unfamiliar with reggae” reports The Guardian.

It is sad that within a space of four years since 2006 the world has lost iconic reggae legends. The joy, however, is in the fact that their legend lives on as they will continue bubbling on the top 100 forever and ever.

Rest in Peace John Kenneth Holt!