Hopeton Lewis has died.
Born October 3, 1947, in Kingston, Hopeton Lewis has been an unjustly ignored figure despite the hits he had in the second half of the '60s and being the winner of the 1970 Festival Song Competition with "Boom Shacka Lacka", which he recorded for Duke Reid's Treasure Isle label.
Hopeton Lewis grew up in Burnt Savannah, Westmoreland. At the age of 6, while attending the Burnt Savannah Holiness Church, his talent for singing was discovered. This ushered in the beginning of his singing career. Several years later, he returned to Kingston to live with his grandparents in Mountain View Avenue. While attending the Windward Road Primary School, he was awarded a scholarship to attend Camperdown High School. By the time he turned 15 years old, both grandparents died and he was left to fend for himself. His ambition, zest for life and his love for music, inspired him to form his first group "The Regals". The ambitious Hopeton Lewis did his first recording at Studio One, but soon moved to Federal Recording Company, where he did a number of recordings.
In late 1966, he recorded "Take It Easy" at Federal Studios for club owner Winston Blake's Merritone label. During the recording session he asked the band led by Lynn Taitt to play the riddim slower, because he was having difficulty fitting the lyrics over the Ska-style riddim. When the take was finished, pianist Gladstone "Gladdy" Anderson remarked on the 'rock steady' nature of the slowed-down riddim. The new name stuck. Hopeton Lewis' advice to "Take Your Time/There's No Need To Hurry"could be taken as directed at the rudeboys, or simply to dancehall patrons adapting the new musical pace. Further tracks recorded at the same sessions, and rush-released for Hopeton Lewis' first album, included the sound-boy boasts of "Sounds & Pressure" (the infectious ridim of which was revived for Sugar Minott's "Hard Time Pressure") and "A Deh Pon Dem"; the first herb song ever recorded in Jamaica, "Cool Collie"; a couple of nods to US Soul in "Music Got Soul" and the ballad "Why Must I Cry"; and the anthemic "Rock Steady", which celebrated to arrival of the new dance in a direct way.
People are you ready
This is rocksteady
Shoulder jerk, heads a movin'
Feel the beat now
Move your feet now
Then go steady
If you're ready
People are you ready
This is rocksteady
The colourful Duke Reid attracted Hopeton Lewis to his Treasure Isle studio at Bond Street while he was still under contract to Federal; uncredited. Although the 1968 hit "There Comes A Time" was credited to The Techniques, it were actually Hopeton Lewis and Pat Kelly who wrote and recorded the song for Duke Reid. The latter decided to release the song as The Techniques since Pat Kelly was the group's latest lead singer and Hopeton Lewis could not have recordings released by other labels under his own name due to his contract to Federal. At first Hopeton Lewis worked as an A&R representative auditioning and rehearsing artists, wrote songs and contributed many arrangements and backing vocals for other artists at the studio. When he became free to record for Treasure Isle, he soon scored, winning the 1970 Festival Song Competition with "Boom Shacka Lacka", easily the equal of his pioneering Rocksteady hits.
After that he began working as a lead vocalist with Byron Lee & The Dragonaires ad recorded for Byron Lee's Dynamic Sound label. In 1971 his single "Grooving Out On Life" was released, which led to an album of the same name. The songs proved to be too lightweight for the Reggae audience and he similarly failed to cross over into the mainstream. Four years after he had joined Byron Lee & the Dragonaires he left the group and went on to perform on the hotel circuit throughout Jamaica and other Caribbean Islands. In the late '80s the singer with the rich baritone turned increasingly to gospel music, and since then he stuck with gospel and has released a prolific series of albums. Hopeton Lewis died at his home in Brooklyn, New York, on Thursday evening, September 4th, 2014.
Sources: The Virgin Encyclopedia of Reggae, The Rough Guide To Reggae and Hopeton Lewis' website.