August 29, 2022
Cecil “Skelly” Spence, co-founder of roots-reggae group Israel Vibration, died August 26 at Brookdale Hospital in Brooklyn, New York.
The singer succumbed to lung cancer at age 69, his son Craig Spence told the Jamaica Observer.
Spence and Lascelle “Wiss” Bulgin, his colleague in Israel Vibration, closed an 11-date tour of the United States West Coast in March with the Roots Radics Band. Albert “Apple” Craig, the other original member of Israel Vibration, died in 2020.
Spence, Bulgin, and Craig met as polio patients at the Mona Rehabilitation Centre in St Andrew during the late 1950s. They first came to prominence in 1978 with The Same Song, a single produced by Tommy Cowan calling for unity among the Rasta houses.
Although the song was a big hit in Jamaica, the trio did not have further success until they relocated to the US in the 1980s. Signed to RAS Records, a Washington DC-based independent company, their fortunes changed once they began working with the Roots Radics Band, who had backed Gregory Isaacs and Bunny Wailer on many hit songs.
Spence handled most of the lead vocals on Israel Vibration’s hit songs like Same Song and Strength of my Life.
Gary “Dr Dread” Himelfarb, founder and president of RAS Records, said the group “[was] the cornerstone of the Ras Records label”. He added that the original members possessed different personalities, with Skelly having “a Bob Marley vibe about him”.
Like many roots-reggae groups, Israel Vibration’s biggest market was Europe. But in a December 2015 interview with the Jamaica Observer, Spence spoke about the group’s longing to break in areas like the US east coast.
“Wi don’t get much exposure in areas like New York, Miami, an’ even England. People not much into roots an’ culture in dem areas, but wi want to reach a younger generation,” he said.
He and Bulgin toured as a duo since Gabriel left for a solo career in 1997.
Cecil “Skelly” Spence is survived by five children, five grandchildren, and older brother Louis.
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