Ewart Beckford, the pioneering reggae vocalist otherwise known as U-Roy, has died at the age of 78.
According to The Guardian, a representative for Trojan Records confirmed U-Roy’s passing. A cause of death has not yet been made public.
U-Roy is credited for pioneering “toasting,” the vocal style in which a performer talks or chants, usually in a monotone melody, over a reggae or dancehall beat. In U-Roy’s case, he often mixed gangster talk with humor.
Hailing from Jones Town, Saint Andrews Parish of Kingston, Jamaica, U-Roy began his career as a sound system deejay. He was eventually discovered by John Holt, of ska group The Paragons, which led to a recording contract with Duke Reid through his Treasure Island imprint. U-Roy’s first two singles, “Wake the Town” and “Wear You to the Bell”, proved major hits in Jamaica, and by the mid 1970s his fame had extended internationally.
U-Roy’s 1975 album Dread in a Babylon and its follow-up, 1976’s Natty Rebel, were released worldwide by Virgin Records, and sold particularly well in the UK. By then, U-Roy had also embarked on international tours, and collaborated with fellow reggae giants like Lee “Scratch” Perry, Bunny Lee, Phill Pratt, and Rupie Edwards.
This success also allowed U-Roy to start his own sound system, which provided exposure for a new wave of reggae artists, including Ranking Joe.
In 2004, U-Roy was featured on Toots and the Maytals’ Grammy Award-winning album True Love alongside other legendary musicians including Willie Nelson, Keith Richards, Toots Hibbert, and Bonnie Raitt.
In 2007, he was awarded the Order of Distinction by the Jamaican government for his contribution to music.