Gold medal for Yellowman

Never one to shy away from hard work, Yellowman is one of dancehall/reggae’s true road warriors.

On Friday, he hits the stage for a second time at the Blackbird Ordinary in Miami, Florida, having performed there last night. Prior to this he was a headliner at Rototom Sunsplash in Benicassim, Spain.

Yellowman has maintained that hectic pace for almost 40 years. His rise from poverty to become a dancehall icon and Grammy-nominated star, has not escaped the Jamaican government, which has made him a recipient of the Order of Distinction (Officer class).

He will receive his insignia on October 15, National Heroes Day, at King’s House in St Andrew.

A bona fide success story, Yellowman obliterated social prejudices by becoming the first albino to make his mark in Jamaica. He accomplished this in the early 1980s as one of the cornerstone acts of producer Henry “Junjo” Lawes’ Volcano label.

At a time when the albino was ostracised, he flaunted his pale pigmentation by wearing yellow suits and boasted about women having his yellow babies in songs like I’m Getting Married and Mad Over Me.

At the height of his popularity, Yellowman signed with a major record label (Columbia Records) and rubbed shoulders with NBA legend Kareem Abdul Jabar. He remains one of the top touring acts in dancehall/reggae, packing halls from Tel Aviv to Tokyo.

“Reggae has been kind of stagnant for a while, but my fans have stuck with me. The best reggae was in the 1980s. I still have the same band I used in the 80s — the Sagittarius Band. There are still two original members and the rest are new,” he told the Unionville Times of Pennsylvania in a 2016 interview.

Those are remarkable achievements for someone who was abandoned by his parents because of his albinism. Raised at the Maxfield Children’s Home and Alpha Boys School in Kingston, he made a name on sound systems like Aces International before placing second to Nadine Sutherland in the 1978 Tastee Talent Contest.

That paved the way for his partnership with Lawes, a flamboyant figure who also bankrolled hit songs at Channel One studio in Kingston by singers Barrington Levy and Cocoa Tea.

There have been negatives linked to Yellowman’s career. He has been criticised for being a purveyor of the ‘slackness’ that dominated the dancehall during the 1980s — a tag he refuses to wear.

And there have been health issues. Diagnosed with cancer in 1982, he underwent major surgery four years later to remove a malignant tumour which caused the left side of his face to be disfigured.

But, he overcame that challenge to cover rock and roll legend Fats Domino’s Blueberry Hill in 1987. It remains his biggest hit song.

Now 62 years old, Yellowman is still blazing the dancehall trail along with his contemporaries Brigadier Jerry, Josey Wales and Charlie Chaplin. When asked by the Unionville Times what keeps him going, he responded with customary bravado.

“I know how to keep my energy up. I take care of myself physically. And, I drink soursop juice and oatmeal porridge drink,” he said.

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