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Desmond Dekker

While a more prominent diaspora had already introduced Jamaican music to the British mainstream, in 1969 Desmond Dekker became the first Jamaican artist performing Jamaican music to have a Top 10 single in the United States. Born Desmond Adolphus Dacres in Kingston in 1941, Dekker attended church with his family and, from a young age, enjoyed singing hymns. He worked as a welder and his workplace singing led colleagues to suggest he should pursue music. In 1961, Dekker auditioned for Studio One and Treasure Isle but was denied and eventually signed to the newly formed Beverley’s label, although he did not have a record out for the label until 1963. In 1962 Dekker brought fellow welder Bob Marley to the attention of label owner Leslie Kong, who recorded the young star’s first records. Dekker’s first single, “Honour Your Mother and Father,” became a regional hit in 1963 and established him as an emerging artist. He adopted the name Dekker at this point and recruited the four Howard brothers to form his backing group, the Aces. Dekker’s songs, which focused strongly on moral issues, became more pop-oriented after he featured on Derrick Morgan’s 1967 “Tougher than Tough,” which spoke of the violent rude boy gang culture. His debut album, 1967’s 007 Shanty Town, and its titular single, continued this trend through the beginning of the 1970s. A 1968 release, “Israelites,” became a Top 10 single in the United States by June 1969 and, before Bob Marley, established Jamaican music in the country. He continued to have hits in the UK through 1975. Leslie Kong’s death in 1971 stalled Dekker’s career but the following year, with the film and soundtrack to The Harder They Come, his music was once again in the spotlight. Having relocated to the UK, in the 1980s Dekker signed with independent label Stiff, which was releasing music adjacent to the burgeoning Two-Tone ska movement. He rerecorded “Israelites” for the label in 1980, but by 1984 was bankrupt. Through the 1990s, he was featured in remixes and on ska tribute albums, and he recorded original material for Trojan. Dekker died in 2006 in London. The Aces continued to perform through the 2010s as a tribute to Dekker’s important stamp on the global spread of Jamaican music.