The one and only Jamaican reggae artist who could always set my heart aflutter, Dennis Emmanuel Brown was born in Kingston, Jamaica, on February 1, 1957. He recorded in the neighborhood of 100 albums and was a pioneer of the lovers’ rock genre. Called “Emmanuel, the Crown Prince of Reggae”, Bob Marley (who will always be the King of reggae) named Dennis Brown as his favorite singer.
Dennis Brown grew up in the heart of Jamaica’s music scene, on Orange Street, near most of the island’s major recording studios. By the age of 9 he was singing regularly with Byron Lee & the Dragonaires. Recording initially for Coxsone Dodd, owner and operator of the famed Studio 1 recording studio, Dennis was a teenager when he scored his first big hit with his cover of the Impressions’ No Man is an Island in 1968.
By 1973, Dennis Brown connected with a young producer, Niney “the Observer” Holness, and was recording exclusively with him. Their collaborations resulted in hit after hit after hit. Best known for his smooth, charismatic vocals and lush melodies, Dennis Brown was on the path to becoming one of Jamaica’s most prolific and beloved artists.
Dennis Brown continued to hone his songwriting skills and was equally adept at political or conscious numbers, sultry R&B and sweet love ballads, all delivered with emotion. His well-known Money in My Pocket became a Top-20 hit in the U.K. in 1979, leading to a contract with A&M Records which guaranteed him international stardom. By the late 1970s, Brown had given us more hits such as Sitting & Watching, Wolves and Leopards, Here I Come and Revolution; many featuring Sly and Robbie as the rhythm section.
And the hits just kept coming. Dennis moved to London and continued to record and produce. His 1982 album, Love Has Found Its Way brought him pop success when the title track climbed to #42 on the U.S. Billboard R&B charts. By the end of the 1980s, he had returned to Jamaica, adapting his music for a younger market and continuing to tour the world, thrilling sold-out audiences everywhere.
Through the decades, some of Dennis Brown’s most interesting work was in collaboration with other great reggae artists like Cocoa Tea, Freddie McGregor, Third World’s Bunny Clarke, and Gregory Isaacs. Certainly one of Jamaica’s classiest performers, this outgoing, friendly man amassed a loving following throughout his career and established himself as one of the most impressive reggae artists of the 20th century.
In May 1999, after touring in Brazil with other reggae artists, Brown fell ill. He was rushed to Kingston’s University Hospital with a collapsed lung and apparently died on the table from cardiac arrest on July 1, 1999. A rumored addiction to cocaine may have contributed to his premature death at the age of 42. Dennis Brown was survived by his wife, Yvonne, and 13 children. His sudden death sent a shockwave through the reggae world. Jamaica had lost one of her greatest stars.
Former Jamaican Prime Minister P. J. Patterson and opposition leader Edward Seaga of the Jamaica Labour Party both spoke at Brown’s funeral on July 17, 1999 in Kingston. The service lasted for three hours and was followed by an unofficial burial in the National Heroes Park in Kingston. Patterson promised a national honor for this superstar but, to date, this has not been done.
Dennis Brown received Grammy nominations for his album Temperature Rising in 1994, for his rendition of Light My Fire in 1995 and for the album Let Me Be the One, posthumously, in 2001. His legacy continues with regular releases of new compilations and best-of collections. Keep them coming! Dennis Brown will never truly be gone as long as his music survives.