Passings: Ska Pioneer Prince Buster (1938 - 2016)

by VVN Music

Prince Buster, a pioneer of the Jamaican Ska sound popularized by groups like Madness and The Specials, died on Thursday at a hospital in South Florida after suffering a series of strokes. He was 78.

Born Cecil Campbell in Kingston, Jamaica, his young life saw him surrounded by religious music and teaching but, by the time he was a teen, he was a regular performer at the Glass Bucket Club as part of Frankie Lymon's Sing and Dance Troupe.

After graduating, Campbell found he was attracted to American R&B as played by the sound system of Tom the Great Sebastian. By the late 50's, he was learning the ropes of sound systems working with Clement "Coxsone" Dodd, eventually breaking off into his own sound system business, Voice of the People.

Finding it hard to get American recorded music, he decided to start making his own records and, in 1961, released his first single, Little Honey / Luke Lane Shuffle. He followed with a long list of records including some of the most influential in Ska history such as Al Capone, sampled on the Special's 1979 track Gangsters and One Step Beyond which Madness covered on their debut album. Many of those records featured the gun happy "rude boy" who represented the free Jamaica and became a major part of the Ska revival.

In 1964, Campbell met Muhammad Ali who brought him to a Nation of Islam event leading to Cecil's conversion to the religion. He eventually started a new label, Islam, to release music in support of his religion including Louis X's (Louis Farrakhan) White Man's Heaven is Black Man's Hell.

During the late-60's, Campbell toured the U.K. and released his album The Ten Commandments (From Man to Woman) on RCA. By 1967, he had started to move his sound to the new rocksteady style and releases the album Judge Dread Rock Steady to much acclaim. His Judge Dread character, the opposite persona from his "rude boy", also became much imitated.

Rocksteady started to transform to roots reggae in the early-70's and Campbell found his interest in continuing challenged due to the conflict between his religion and the Rasta-influence in the new music. He moved to Miami and started a number of companies including one renting jukeboxes.

Throughout the 80's and 90's, Prince Buster made a number of comebacks, using the Skatalites as his backing band and, on occasion, went back into the studio. In 2001, he was given the Jamaican Order of Distinction.

A number of the bands that he influenced posted tributes on Thursday:

The Best (English Beat)
Oh dear, huge loss to the world & ska!! This is a hard one...farewell to our hero, original rudebwoy Prince Buster.
Dave X of English Beat
thank you Prince Buster for a lifetime of memories and fun dave x
The Selecter
RIP Prince Buster. This is a sad day for ska fans everywhere.

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