Roots | Alton Nehemiah Ellis OD

IRIE™ Magazine | ROOTS - Alton Nehemiah Ellis OD

Alton Nehemiah Ellis OD… Facts an’ T’ings

September 1, 1938 – October 10, 2008

IRIE remembers Alton Nehemiah Ellis OD (September 1, 1938 – October 10, 2008) a Jamaican vocalist best known as one of the innovators of rocksteady, a romantic, rhythm and blues styled Jamaican music genre which was a successor of ska and a precursor to reggae. The soulful Alton Ellis was referred to by many as the ‘Godfather of Rocksteady’.

IRIE presents some fascinating Facts an ‘Tings about Alton Nehemiah Ellis OD.

Facts an’ T’ings

  • Alton Nehemiah Ellis was born in Kingston, Jamaica in 1938 and grew up in the Trenchtown area as part of a musical family which included his brothers, Leslie and Irving (Niney) and his younger sister, Hortense, who performed alongside Ellis in his early career.

  • Ellis attended Ebenezer and Boys’ Town School where he excelled in the field of sports and music.

  • Ellis taught himself how to play the piano at a very early age. He would sneak into the local youth center at night to practice.

  • Ellis performed as a dancer (in a duo) at school shows before making the switch a singing.

  • In 1959, Ellis started his career in music with Eddy Parkins, forming the duo Alton and Eddy. They recorded for Coxsone Dodd at Studio One. Their first song, the R&B single ‘Muriel’, which Ellis wrote, topped the Jamaica charts that year.

  • Alton Ellis’ album, ‘Mr. Soul of Jamaica’ is considered one of the most definitive rocksteady albums in music history. The album consisted of twelve tracks which were recorded between 1967 and 1970 at Duke Reid’s Treasure Isle Recording Studios in Kingston, Jamaica. ‘Mr. Soul of Jamaica’ was produced by Reid and released on his Treasure Isle label in 1974.

  • In 2004, Ellis was awarded the Order of Distinction by the Jamaican government in recognition of his achievements.

  • In 2006, Alton Nehemiah Ellis OD was inducted into the International Reggae And World Music Awards Hall Of Fame.

  • Alton Nehemiah Ellis OD died on October 10, 2008, in London, England, at the age of 70. His death prompted Jamaica’s Minister of Information, Culture, Youth and Sports, Olivia ‘Babsy’ Grange, to say “even as we mourn the great Alton Ellis, we must give thanks for his monumental contribution to the development of Jamaica’s popular music”.

  • Did You Know…

    In 1968, the track ‘Mad Mad’ by Alton Ellis and the Sound Dimension band was released in 1968 on the Coxsone label. The ‘Mad Mad’ is one of Studio One’s most beloved riddims. The riddim has been reused or sampled by many hip-hop, dancehall and reggae producers and artists.

    The riddim was a favorite of Henry ‘Junjo’ Lawes, a highly influential Jamaican record producer. Junjo Lawes reinterpreted the recognizable three-note descending horn line and it became known as the
    ‘Diseases’ reggae riddim. It was notably utilized in Yellowman’s hit song ‘Zungguzungguguzungguzeng’, and in turn, sampled and reinterpreted by a long list of popular hip-hop artists, including The Notorious B.I.G., Tupac Shakur, KRS-One, Blackstar, and Sublime.