October 17, 2023
Owen Gray, one of the Jamaican artistes who settled in the United Kingdom during the great West Indian migration to that country in the early 1960s, is also among its few survivors.
His work as a reggae pioneer at home and in the UK is being recognised today when he receives the Order of Distinction (Officer class) during the Ceremony of Investiture and Presentation of National Honours and Awards at King’s House in St Andrew.
Gray, 84, is unable to make the trip but is excited to finally get a national award from his country.
“I feel fantastic…I think I should have been the first person to get this award because I am the one who start this music,” he said.
Born in St Mary, Gray reputedly recorded the first song for Island Records (Patricia) in 1960. Other early hits in Jamaica included Please Let Me Go before he moved to the UK two years later.
Gray found a growing market there for ska music, which erupted in Jamaica in 1962. His UK contemporaries included singer Jackie Edwards, Laurel Aitken, Dandy Livingstone, Millie Small, Jimmy James, Tony Tribe and The Cimarons.
It was not until the 1970s and 1980s when Gray cut a series of well-received albums for producer Anthony “Chips” Richards that he realised the level of his popularity.
“I started touring and going to places like France, Germany, Italy, Holland…all over di place. That’s when I see how people love di music,” said Gray, who also has a strong following in Brazil.
Marcia Griffiths heads the list of entertainers accepting awards today. She is recipient of the Order of Jamaica, the country’s fourth-highest honour.
Also receiving the OD (Officer Class) are singers Tarrus Riley and Wayne Marshall; actor-playwright Lenford Salmon; and Justine Henzell, founder and organiser of Calabash Literary Festival.
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