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June is Black Music Month and WERS at Night will recognize black musicians, composers, singers, and songwriters who have made enormous contributions to the music industry. Today, June 26th, Rockers is highlighting Dennis Brown.
Dennis Emmanuel Brown began his career in the late 1960s at the young age of eleven. Throughout his career he released 75 albums and was dubbed “The Crown Prince of Reggae” by Bob Marley who was a huge fan of Dennis’ lovers rock genre of reggae.
Born February 1st, 1957 in Kingston, Jamaica, Dennis grew up with three older brothers and a sister in a Tenement yard, raised mostly by his father after his mother passed away in the 1960s. He became interested in music at an early age, idolizing the swooning vocals of American singers such as Brook Benton, Sam Cooke, Frank Sinatra, and Dean Martin. He cited Nat King Cole as one of his greatest early influences. His first performance was at the age of eleven when he visited a local club where his brother Basil was performing a comedy routine. There he met Fabulous Falcons (a group which included Cynthia Richards, David “Scotty” Scott, and Noel Brown) and was asked to join the group as a featured vocalist. His first performance with the group was for a “Jamaican Labor Party” and Brown was showered with so much money that he was able to buy his first suit. As a young singer, he was influenced by older contemporaries such as Delroy Wilson (who he later cited as the single greatest influence on his singing style), Errol Dunkley, John Holt, Ken Boothe, and Bob Andy.
Brown’s first single was called “Lips of Wine” produced by Derrick Harriott, but when it wasn’t released he later recorded “No Man is an Island” released at the age of twelve in 1969. The track soon became a huge hit in Jamaica, leading him to do multiple recordings with Clement Dodd’s label Studio One and many features on albums including back-up vocals with Horace Andy and Larry Marshall on Alton Ellis’s Sunday Coming album. After recording about thirty songs with Studio One, Dennis compiled them onto his first two albums; No Man is an Island and If I Follow My Heart. In 1972, Brown became an international artist with his hit in the UK “Money in My Pocket” that was written for Joe Gibbs. In the same year, Brown performed as part of a Christmas morning showcase in Toronto, Canada, along with Delroy Wilson, Scotty, Errol Dunkley, and the Fabulous Flames, where he was billed as the “Boy Wonder of Jamaica”. Brown worked hard collaborating with other artists and writing songs and soon released Jamaica’s hit summer song of 1973, “Westbound Train”, which lead him to receiving the status of Jamaica’s Top Male Vocalist of the year in a poll by Swing Magazine.
In 1973, Dennis was hospitalized due to fatigue caused by him being over-worked and preceded to take a break from music in order to focus on his health. After a year, he returned to music with a tour in the United Kingdom along with Cynthia Richards, Al Brown, Sharon Forrester, and The Maytals. With commercial success, Brown signed an international deal with A&M Records in 1981, and became permanently based in the UK. Brown’s first album release for the label was the Gibbs-produced Foul Play, which while not wholly a success, it included the roots tracks “The Existence of Jah” and “The World is Troubled”. He continued to record throughout the 80s and into the 1990s, notably on the Three Against War album in 1995 with Beenie Man and Triston Palmer, and on albums produced by Mikey Bennett, and his profile in the United States was raised by a series of album releases on RAS Records.
During the late 90s, Dennis’ health began to worsen due to his use of cocaine and a 24/7 work schedule. While touring in Brazil, he was diagnosed with pneumonia and was rushed back to Jamaica where he was admitted to Kingston’s University Hospital suffering from cardiac arrest. He passed away the following day, July 1st, 1999 and was laid to rest on July 17th.
Dennis Brown is now an inspiration to many reggae artists including Barrington Levy, Junior Reid, Frankie Paul, Luciano, Bushman, and Richie Stephens and has left behind a legacy like no other and will forever remain “The Crown Prince of Reggae”.