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Dennis Brown
Dennis Brown
 July 1, 1999
Age 42
 
Pneumonia/respiratory failure 
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 PFLASH
'CROWN PRINCE OF REGGAE' DENNIS BROWN DEAD AT AGE 42 

Reggae legend Dennis Brown, who recorded over 60 albums and 300 singles over his 30-year career, died July 1 of pneumonia. He was 42.  

According to the newspaper The Jamaica Gleaner, Brown began his career at the age of 9, performing in West Kingston. At age 12, he was a featured member of reggae producer Byron Lee's famous group, Dragonaires.  

Brown was considered a child prodigy of the reggae scene, at times compared with Stevie Wonder because of his early rise to fame as a popular vocalist.  

                 Over his lengthy career, he worked with many famed reggae producers, including Clement "Sir Coxsone" Dodd, Mikey Bennett, Derrick Harriott and Sly & Robbie.  

                 Brown was labeled by the reggae community as "The Crown Prince of Reggae," positioning his status as the rightful heir to Bob Marley's musical legacy. He had many classic songs, including "No Man Is An Island," "Here I Come," and "How Could I Leave?"  

                 According to Mikey Bennett, "(Brown) was charismatic and charming, a crowd pleaser where he went. Dennis Brown epitomized what a reggae singer is all about...". 

 
Dennis Brown, 42, Reggae Singer With an Enduringly Sweet Style
 
By NEIL STRAUSS/NY Times 

Dennis Brown, a popular and prolific Jamaican reggae singer, died on Thursday at University Hospital in Kingston, Jamaica. He was 42. 

The cause was respiratory failure, said a spokesman for Heartbeat Records, which has released several of Brown's albums.  

Born in Kingston, Mr. Brown had already perfected his sweet singing style and had his first reggae hit by the time he was 12, with the single "No Man Is an Island," recorded at Studio One. He soon began branching out, working with producers like Winston (Niney) Holness and Joe Gibbs, with whom he recorded many of his most popular songs.  

Known for his gentle, beseeching voice -- one of the best of his generation -- he mixed soulful love songs with universal pleas calling for peace and harmony. As reggae trends changed from lovers' rock to dance-hall to digital music, Mr. Brown floated easily into each new style. His many hits included "Westbound Train," "Baby Don't Do It," "Ghetto Girl" and "The Look of Love."  

He had several hits in Britain, including "Money in My Pocket," and in the early 1980's signed with A & M Records and lived for several years in London. Nicknamed "Emmanuel, the Crown Prince of Reggae," Mr. Brown recorded more than 50 albums. This year alone he had already released three records, with a fourth on the way, each one for a different independent label. He was nominated for a Grammy Award for his album "Light My Fire," released in 1994.  

"I was once young and now I'm old," he sings on one of his albums from this year, "Bless Me Jah." "And through all the changes in life, mankind has grown cold/Where is the love and happiness that we ought to share?" 

He is survived by his wife, Yvonne, and 13 children, according to Radio Jamaica. 

 
KINGSTON, Jamaica (AP) - Dennis Brown, a former child star who became known  
as the Crown Prince of Reggae, died Thursday. He was 42.  

Initial reports suggested Brown died of complications caused by respiratory  problems, but his cause of death had not yet been confirmed.  

Brown rose to prominence amid a 1970s wave of reggae singers that included Bob Marley, who introduced the music to listeners worldwide.  

Brown released a string of hit songs beginning with ``No Man is an Island,'' which he recorded in 1969 at the age of 12.  

The singer's most fruitful period came later, when he produced hits including ``Westbound Train,'' ``How Could I Leave,'' and ``Ghetto Girl.''  

He earned a Grammy nomination in 1995 for his album ``Light My Fire.''

July 3, 1999                             Jamaica Observer 

Thanks for the music, Dennis Brown 

DENNIS Brown was only 42 when he died on Thursday morning at the University Hospital of the West Indies. 

Few younger Jamaicans may have realised Dennis Brown's relative youth; older ones would have reminded themselves of the fact. They would have to recall that Dennis Brown was once called the Boy Wonder; that he was a pre-teen when he began thrilling Jamaican popular music audiences three decades ago. 

Over the next several weeks, and in the months to come, many will eulogize Dennis Brown for his singing; reflecting on his smooth mellow style and his vocal range. Many will agree with producer Mikey Bennett's assessment that Dennis Brown was "the best thing that ever happened to a reggae song". Even if he wasn't, he came pretty close to it. 

He may not have had the crisp clear voice of John Holt, the infectiousness of that other rock steady great, Alton Ellis or the unrestrained charisma of Bob Marley. But there is an inviting silkiness about a Dennis Brown song that incites romance, yet at times there is melancholy. The same Dennis Brown may swing from the deceptive ease of Silhouettes to the unrestrained urgency of a song like Revolution, becoming the social firebrand ready to take up arms on behalf of the people. 

Life is often full of what-ifs and what-may-have-beens. So there will be the questions of why Dennis Brown, for all his talent and prolific output, did not achieve the international recognition of a Marley or even a Jimmy Cliff. There are things that he might have done differently to ensure the breakthrough that would have moved him, in public perception, beyond that status of king in waiting. 

But Dennis Brown's legacy will be more than today's fame. For his greatness includes something very few entertainers, and more so purveyors of popular culture, are ever able to achieve. He remained popular and current for 30 years, from the rocksteady days of Sir Coxone Dodd's Studio One through the revolutionary reggae era of the 1970s and into the 1990s, when he still held audiences with his special blend of lovers' rock. He transited it all without ever compromising his role as a serious musician. 

Dennis Brown will no longer weave his spell of vocal magic on the stages of Jamaica and elsewhere in the world; but happily he has been captured for eternity on compact discs and vinyl recordings. 

Thanks for the joy you provided, Dennis Brown. 

 

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BIOGRAPHY
 
 
 
  DENNIS BROWN : CROWN PRINCE OF REGGAE
   February 1, 1957 - July 1, 1999
 
(This article originally appeared in Reggae Report in 1997)
 
Dennis Brown on Record by Lee O'Neill

Dennis Brown is often called the Crown Prince of Reggae, a tribute to his 70's status as the leading star in reggae after Bob Marley.  Many, however, would dispute the lowliness of that ranking.  No performer has been as consistently at the top of the charts as long or as often as Dennis Brown and the only  artist who has made a bigger contribution to reggae is Marley.  Marley, in fact, once called Dennis Brown his favorite singer. 

In the 26 years that Brown has been singing, he has produced  over 100 albums and hundreds of singles but perhaps more critical, he was instrumental in integrating a cultural consciousness with popular reggae.  Brown certainly didn't introduce African and Rastafarian themes to reggae but he was the first star with a career based on love and popular songs to embrace the deeper themes of Marley, Big Youth and Burning Spear.  Over the years, more than any other artist in almost any genre, Brown has shown that romantic love, love of God and love of cultural heritage are not all that different. 

Like dozens of other reggae artists, Brown's career began at Clement Dodd's Studio One.  The teenaged Brown hit big with "No Man Is An Island" and "If I Follow My Heart" in 1969 and the smooth, masculine, confident sound of his voice was already present.  Although the albums that resulted from these first sessions suffered from poor material ("Little Green Apples," "Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head," etc.), both If I Follow My Heart (Studio One, 1970) and No Man Is An Island (Studio One, 1970) have good moments but neither is listenable all the way through. 

Brown spent the next several years learning his craft and recording frequently for a variety of producers, including Derrick Harriott, Herman Chin-Loy, Sidney Crooks, Prince Buster, Randys, Phil Pratt and GG Ranglin.  Many of the songs he recorded through the early 70's were pretty lightweight, but he also began to demonstrate the talent that would come to rule reggae.  Highlights would include "What About the Half," "Cheater," the original "Money in My Pocket," and "Songs My Mother Used to Sing."  Musical Heatwave (Trojan, 1993) provides an excellent overview of this era while Money in My Pocket (Trojan, 1981) fills in some of the gaps.  The Harriott produced Sings Super Reggae & Soul Hits (Trojan, 1972) and Superstar (Micron, 1973), produced by Brown and Crooks were the only LPs released at the time and they both show an artist still experimenting with his talent. 

In 1974, Brown made his first sessions with legendary producer Niney the Observer that led to a collection of records that rank with the Lee Perry-Wailers sessions for intensity and power. Songs like "Africa," "Whip Them Jah Jah," "Cassandra" and "Tribulation" are some of the greatest recordings ever made.  Niney's hard, jagged production (major credit due to the Soul Syndicate here) challenged Brown's voice to achieve an intensity he had only suggested previously.  Unfortunately, the legacy of these recordings is somewhat confused.  Some Like It Hot (Heartbeat, 1992) and Open the Gate (Heartbeat, 1995) collect nearly all of Brown's Niney productions on two discs. Various permutations of these sessions can be found on Deep Down (Observer), Just Dennis (Trojan, 1975), Westbound Train (Third World, 1977), Greatest Hits (Rohit, 1987, reissued by JA Classics in 1994), My Time (Rohit, 1987, reissued by JA Classics in 1994), Go Now (Rohit, 1990, reissued by JA Classics in 1994), If I Didn't Love You (Jama

Wolf & Leopards (DEB, 1976) mixed a couple of Niney productions  ("Here I Come" being the most well-known) with self-produced songs ("Emmanuel," "Children of Israel") and collaborations with Ossie Hibbert and Castro Brown and it showed the youth beginning to mature.  Wolf & Leopards and it's follow-up, Visions (Joe Gibbs/Shanachie, 1976) not only showed a confident and talented artist but also showed an artist who had sufficient inspiration and craft to create two consecutive albums in which every song was a gem.  That kind of consistency was as unheard of in the 1970s as it is today. 

Visions also marked the beginning of an extended affiliation with producer Joe Gibbs.  Gibbs' label was responsible for some of the best and most innovative music of late 1970s and early 1980s, chiefly due to the studio band led by Lloyd Parks, arrangers like Clive Hunt and Willie Lindo, engineer Errol Thompson and artists like Brown.  At their best, this group put together songs and albums that were ablaze with energy.  Vision, Words of Wisdom (Joe Gibbs, 1978) and Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow (Joe Gibbs, 1982) are an extraordinary trio of albums complete with brilliant musicianship and inspired singing.  If some of the rawness of Niney's productions had been sacrificed it was replaced with virtuosity and power.  Even relatively minor albums like Best of Dennis Brown 1 (Joe Gibbs, 1980, recreations of Niney's hits), Best of Dennis Brown 2 (Joe Gibbs, 1982) and Stagecoach Showcase (Joe Gibbs, 1982) had a latent fire in them.  Spellbound (Joe Gibbs, 1980), Joseph's Coat of Many Colors (DEB, 1979) and 

Gibbs and Brown also launched an ambitious attempt at crossover success in 1981 when Brown signed with A&M.  Foul Play (A&M, 1981) and Love Has Found It's Way (A&M, 1982) did not attempt to break the charts with some hybridized rock/reggae/funk/disco mix but instead presented reggae's best singer singing strong material backed by some of reggae's best musicians.  The results were two outstanding albums that failed to achieve their goals (although Love Has Found It's Way spawned a pair of moderate English hits).  The final album in the group, The Prophet Rides Again (A&M, 1983) contains one side of typically brilliant Brown with one side of tepid funky reggae.  It, too, failed to chart and none of these wonderful albums are available today. 

        The ending of the relationship with A&M coincided with Gibbs' financial disintegration and by 1984 Brown was recording for his own Yvonne's Special label (DEB Music was his first self-produced label) and for producers Sly & Robbie, Gussie Clarke, Tad Dawkins, Trevor Bow, Bunny Lee and Delroy Wright. Satisfaction Feeling (Yvonne's Special, 1984) and Revolution (Yvonne's Special, 1985) are both strong compilations of singles from 1983-85 that demonstrated that when he was paying attention and the circumstances were right, Brown was still the best there was.  At the same time, Judge Not (Greensleeves, 1984 with Gregory Isaacs), Brown Sugar (RAS, 1986), Slow Down (Greensleeves, 1985), Wake Up (Natty Congo, 1985), Hold Tight (Live & Learn, 1986), Reggae Superstars Meet (Striker Lee, 1985 with Horace Andy) and Wild Fire (Natty Congo, 1986 with John Holt) all showed a Dennis Brown who could surround one or two wicked tunes with eight or nine pieces of lukewarm mush.  Like many other reggae stars, Brown was 

It wasn't until 1988 on the Willie Lindo produced Inseparable  (J&W, 1988) that Brown was able to find his voice again.  On this album and others like Good Vibrations (Yvonne's, 1989), Over Proof (Greensleeves, 1990) and Unchallenged (Music Works, 1990), Brown didn't match the fire of his Joe Gibbs or Niney produced sessions but instead presented the carefully crafted presence of a supremely talented professional.  His voice no longer capable of achieving the riveting drive of his glory years yet when compared to contemporaries like Gregory Isaacs or John Holt, Brown has lost a lot less of his native ability over the years. 

In the last half-dozen years, the quality of Brown's albums is directly related to the quality of the songs and the production.  Nothing Like This (RAS, 1994), produced by Junior Reid, Friends for Life (Shanachie, 1992), produced by Black Scorpio and Blazing (Shanachie, 1992), produced by Michael Bennett are all excellent albums that reward repeated listening.  Light My Fire (Heartbeat, 1994), produced by GG Ranglin is overproduced and on Legit (Greensleeves, 1993),  Visions of the Reggae King (Gold Mine, 1994) and Three Against War (VP, 1994) he sounds like he's going through the motions. 

The 1990's are also responsible for a group of albums produced by Lloyd Charmers that show Brown at his worst.  Sarge (Charmers, 1990), Another Day in Paradise (Trojan, 1992) and Rare Grooves, Reggae Rhythm & Blues (Body Music, 1993) are mid to slow tempo American soul/pop songs covered by The Crown Prince of Reggae.  An argument could be made that Brown is sufficiently talented that anything he records is worthwhile. I'd agree, but these albums test that argument. 

The 1990s have also seen an unprecedented series of reissues, many of which have been discussed above.   In addition to those mentioned, Classic Gold (Rocky 1, 1993) reprises the best of the Joe Gibbs years while Hit After Hit (Rocky 1, 1996) fills in some of the gaps and Classic Hits (Sonic, 1992) mixes up Sly & Robbie, Niney and Bunny Lee productions in a strange, yet satisfying compilation. 

Now, in 1996, Brown seems to be stepping to center stage again.   In addition to headlining the U.S. edition of Reggae Sunsplash, there have been seven new Dennis Brown albums this year.  Four are compilations, and Songs of Emmanuel (Yvonne's, 1996) has one of his worst songs ever ("Girl from Ipanema") mixed in with an otherwise successful album.   Milk & Honey (RAS, 1996) and Can It Be (VP, 1996), on the other hand, are two of the best albums he's done in years and demonstrate that Brown still has the master's touch.  ?? 


Often referred to as "Emmanuel, the Crown Prince of Reggae," Dennis Brown was Bob Marley's favorite singer. He was in his teens when his career began, recording initially (and typically) for Coxsone Dodd, scoring big with a 1968 cover of "No Man Is an Island" (the Impressions) in 1968.  In the '70s he made a series of exciting albums for Joe Gibbs and had a U.K. hit with his classic "Money in My Pocket." From 1977 to 1982 he recorded for Joe Gibbs, in his peak period producing such classics as "Revolution," "Have You Ever Been Lonely (Have You Ever Been Blue)," "The Promised Land," and "Sitting and Watching." A live album was cut in Montreux in 1979, a year after he was featured in the film Heartland Reggae. With a no-nonsense, straight-ahead style, Brown is capable of wrapping a love song in a crooning caress or inciting a crowd (as he did memorably at the 1983 Sunsplash in Montego Bay) to  heights of uncontrolled hysteria. He continues to be one of Jamaica's classiest and most riveting performers. --  Roger Steffens, All-Music Guide 
 

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