Ewart Beckford, known by the stage name U-Roy, was a Jamaican vocalist and pioneer of toasting. U-Roy was known for a melodic style of toasting applied with a highly developed sense of timing.
Ewart Beckford was born in Jones Town, Saint Andrews Parish, Kingston, Jamaica, on 21 September 1942. He was raised within a religious and musical family; his mother was an organist for the choir at a local Seventh-day Adventist church. The sobriquet U-Roy originated from a younger member of his family who found it difficult to pronounce his first name. Beckford attended Denham Town High School in Kingston. As a young man Beckford listened to the music of Louis Prima, James Brown, Ruth Brown, Fats Domino, Rufus Thomas, Smiley Lewis and was especially influenced by the vocal phrasing of Louis Jordan.
Beckford's album "Dread In A Babylon" was released in the US, Europe and Jamaica by Virgin Records in 1975. The album achieved significant sales in the UK which was due in part to the ongoing expansion of the Virgin label and stores. The track and today's tune "Runaway Girl" from the album was released as a single in Europe that same year. The success of "Dread In A Babylon" led to a series of Tony Robinson produced albums: "Natty Rebel" (1976), "Rasta Ambassador" (1977) and "Jah Son Of Africa" (1978). Beckford's international popularity led to the album Natty Rebel being released in 1976 on Virgin's imprint Front Line label in Nigeria as well as in France on Virgin and Polydor.
Beckford started his own sound system in 1978, which he named Stur Gav after his sons. The sound system would launch the careers of a younger generation of toasters and singers including Ranking Joe, Jah Screw, Charlie Chaplin and Josey Wales. The pop group Blondie had a world-wide hit with the reggae track "The Tide Is High" in 1980, which prompted Virgin to re-release the original PARAGONS' track from 1967 and the 1971 U-Roy version as a single that same year. His album Pray Fi Di People was released in 2012.
Beckford was awarded the Order of Distinction in 2007 by the Jamaican government for his contribution to music.
Beckford's death was confirmed on 17 February 2021 when his partner, Marcia Smikle, told the Jamaican newspaper The Gleaner. Trojan Records was also informed about his death. As of 20 February, no cause of death has been made public, although he suffered from diabetes, hypertension, and problems with his kidneys prior to his death, and had been undergoing surgery at the hospital.
Today's tune "Runaway Girl", taken from the album "Dread In A Babylon", and R.I.P U-Roy!
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