Reggae star Desmond Dekker died suddenly last week, from a heart attack, at the age of 64. He was at his home in Surrey when he collapsed. Dekker, who gave his last concert on 11 May, was scheduled to play a number of European dates this summer, including the Respect Festival in Prague. The singer’s manager, Delroy Williams told reporters that Dekker had seemed in good health when he had last seen him, the day before his death. Williams added: “I don’t think I will ever get over this.”
Dekker is, of course, best known for his 1969 hit ‘Israelites’, the first reggae song ever to top the UK chart. Born in Kingston, Jamaica, he began his working life as a welder before making a fulltime career of singing. His band, Desmond Dekker And The Aces, had hits with ‘It Mek’ and ‘007 (Shanty Town)’, as well as the aforementioned ‘Israelites’. In the seventies he moved to the UK, later recording a new hit ‘You Can Get It If You Really Want’. His popularity sadly waned during the eighties and the singer was declared bankrupt in 1984, but he experienced something of a revival in the nineties when a new version of ‘Israelites’ was released and used in TV ads.
Paying tribute to Dekker, reggae DJ Daddy Ernie, of London’s Choice FM, said: “Any history book that you pick up on reggae, Desmond Dekker’s name will have to be in there. People like Desmond Dekker only come along once in a lifetime. This is one of the pioneers that has passed away – his place is definitely cemented in reggae history.”
Mark Lamarr, who presents a reggae show on Radio 2, said: “He probably was the first reggae superstar to have hits outside Jamaica in the US and UK. I saw him live dozens of times and he couldn’t do a bad show – he was always magnificent.”
Manager Williams said: “Desmond was the first legend, believe it or not. When he released ‘Israelites’ nobody had heard of Bob Marley – he paved the way for all of them. He was at his peak fitness, he had this big tour coming up for this summer and he was looking forward to it – and then that was it. He died peacefully but it still hurts. I was his manager and his best friend. I don’t think anyone knew how close we were – we go back so far. I didn’t even get the chance to say goodbye properly.”