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Laurel Aitken died a bitter man, say friends
By Basil Walters
Kingston, Jamaica, July 22, 2005: Veteran Jamaican singer Laurel Aitken, who passed away last Sunday in England, was Wednesday remembered by members of the music fraternity here as a forgotten hero who died a bitter man because he never received official recognition for the pivotal role he played in the establishment of Jamaican music. "He (Laurel Aitken) has paid his dues, and we owe him a lot," popular musicologist Bunny Goodison told Splash. "This should be a lesson to Government to be more careful about the people they choose to give national honours," added Goodison who bemoaned the fact that people of lesser standing have been so recognised. "That's a serious oversight, and Laurel was very bitter about that," Goodison stated. Well-known sound system operator Winston "Merritone" Blake agreed. "Laurel always felt that Jamaica never recognised his work as a pioneer artiste. He belonged to that first wave of artistes that really built the whole foundation of Jamaican music, they have been really neglected a lot," Blake said. "Laurel Aitken is one of the forgotten, unsung heroes in Jamaican music," he added.
Aitken was 78 when he died of a heart attack in Leicester. He was known as the 'Godfather of Ska', Jamaica's first popular music form that gained immense popularity in Europe in the 1960s and formed the platform from which many of the island's great artistes launched international careers. Ska's popularity was eventually superceeded by Rock Steady in the late 1960s, then by Reggae in the 1970s.
However, in the last five years, Ska has enjoyed a resurgence of popularity, mostly among white musicians in Europe and North America where many Ska music festivals are now staged. Aitken, who will be most remembered for his recordings I Remember, Boogie In My Bones, Little Sheila (a two-sided hit in Jamaica) Boogie Rock and Night Fall, was actually born in Cuba in 1927. He had five brothers, among them veteran guitarist Bobby Aitken. Laurel Aitken's musical career began in 1938 when, at the age of 11, he won impresario Vere Johns' Opportunity Knocks competition. From there he moved on to entertaining tourists at Kingston Harbour and by the early 1950s he was singing with all the big bands in Jamaica. In the early 1960s, he migrated to England and promoted Ska in Europe through performances across the continent. In fact, Aitken had chart hits in Spain and Belgium. On Wednesday, veteran singer Ken Boothe attributed his own career in music to Aitken's influence.
"God knows, Laurel Aitken was one one of my inspirations when I was younger," Boothe told Splash. "Because he was among the first set of artistes who started recording, and even though many people don't remember him, I know wherever he is gone to, music is there." Veteran horns man Micky Hanson remembered Aitken as someone who had helped to establish our cultural identity at the time of independence. "Not just the songs he recorded, but as a pioneer Laurel Aitken has enshrined our cultural history," Hanson pointed out. Aitken was the fifth entertainer to have died in recent months. The others were Justin Hinds, Junior Delgado, Jennifer Lara and Clancy Eccles. Aitken is survived by his wife Sandra, a daughter and a granddaughter.
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