Margarita–Ambassador of Reggae



I have long continued the argument that Margarita was a champion, an ambassador, of the Rasta drumming that would go on to become the foundation for the reggae rhythm, and without her, it is possible that reggae would not be the same today. I have found now evidence in the Star Newspaper that furthers this argument.

In my book, Don Drummond: The Genius and Tragedy of the Greatest Trombonist, I write: Her relationship with the brothers and sisters in the hills was strong, and so when she performed one time on stage, she refused to dance without the accompaniment of Count Ossie and his group, which were once known as the Rastafarian Repatriation Association of Adastra Road in Eastern Kingston and later became known as The Mystic Revelation of Rastafari. Verena Reckord writes, “The group got its first legitimate stage break in the late fifties. It was an occasion when the late, famous rhumba queen Marguerita (Mahfood) insisted that she would not appear on a Vere Johns variety show (Opportunity Knocks) at the Ward Theatre on Christmas morning unless Ossie’s group was on the bill. Johns was wary then about using Rastas on his show, but Marguerita was his star attraction. He had no choice. Count Ossie and his drummers were hired. They were a hit. They soon became regulars on Vere Johns’ show and other functions.” Margarita was the one who introduced Rasta music into mainstream culture, as well as the jazz musicians who accompanied them which is why Miller calls her a “seminal figure in the island’s musical and cultural growth.” In Helene Lee’s work The First Rasta, Brother Royer, a member of Count Ossie’s camp, credits Margarita with helping Rasta music come to the mainstream through her tenacity. Despite Norman Manley’s demand that “Anywhere you see Rastaman, you have to lock them up,” Margarita refused to perform unless Count Ossie and his drummers performed, and it was only after the “people got crazy about the new sound,” says Royer, that Rastas were from then on welcomed onto stages. “Great girl! Our Helen of Troy!” said Royer of Margarita. She was more like the Josephine Baker of Jamaica.

margarita drums1

From the Star Newspaper, August 22, 1961.

So imagine my delight when I found an article in the Star Newspaper, August 22, 1961 that mentioned the exact performance that Reckord referenced! The article reads: African Drums at Palace Hour. Fans who attend the Palace Theatre tomorrow night will see and hear for the first time on a stage Count Ossie and his African Drums, the band whose sounds have taken Jamaica by storm. They will also hear the famous “Carolina” which held the Number One spot on the Hit Parade for son long. Featured in the fast moving “Swingaree” which will be presented between two full length films at regular prices will be: The renowned Blues Busters fresh from the North Coast, the famous Wilfred Edwards, golden-voiced Lascelles Perkins and top favourite Hortense Ellis. Coming in from Montego Bay will be Phonso the Great. For variety there will also be Creative Dancer Margarita, Caribbean Rhumba Queen Yvonne Davis 9Just back from Nassau), whirlwind dancers Pam Pam and Colleen and Jamaica’s leading comedian, the inimitable Bam. The Drum sounds will also feature songs by Skitter and Winston and trombone selections by Rico Rodriques. All roads will lead to the Palace tomorrow night. –C.A.T.

From the Star Newspaper, August 28, 1961.

From the Star Newspaper, August 28, 1961.

The performances were a hit with crowds of the Palace Theatre, according to a Star Newspaper article on Monday, August 28, 1961. The article entitled “‘Swingeree’–A Big Hit,” reads: Upwards of 2,000eager fans thronged the Palace Theatre last Wednesday night to witness the first appearance of Count Ossie and His African Drums, with some of the island’s top entertainers. Scores had to stand and hundreds were turned away. The show was good to the last drop and every item was a winner from Compere Vere John introduced the opening number to Wilfred Edwards’ last song. First came Lascelles Perkins with two numbers and he was followed by Pam Pam & Colleen in a whirlwind dance number. Then Hortense Ellis gave out with “I am not a know it all” and got two encores, after which Count Ossie and the Sounds took over. The fans rocked to the favourite ‘Carolina’ sung by Skitter & Winston, swayed with Rico and his soulful trombone, moaned with Bobby Gaynair and his golden sax and enjoyed “Babylon gone.” Comedian Bam kept the audience in stitches for about eight minutes. Hit of the evening was the dance done to the curvesome Margarita to the beat of the African drums in colourful costume. She received an ovation. Then came the Blues Busters and the audience just wouldn’t let them go even after three numbers. Caribbean Rhumba Queen Yvonne (Electric Eel) Davis also made a tremendous hit with the fans as she gyrated in superb rhythm. Finally Wilfred Edwards closed the show with three favourite selections. ‘Swingeree’ featuring Count Ossie & His African Drums will be seen at the Odeon Theatre, Half Way Tree, tomorrow night at 8.40 o’clock between two great films. It will also be presented at the Gaiety Theatre on Thursday night at the same hour. Supporting stars for these two shows will be The Blues Busters, Margarita, Hortense Ellis, Pam Pam & Colleen and top Comedian Bam. –C.A.T.”

Credit is due to Prince Buster for first recording the drums of Count Ossie that formed the backbone for reggae, but credit is also due to Margarita, Anita Mahfood, for bringing these drums to the stage, where their sounds mixed in the air, knowing no boundary between upper and lower classes. Until this time, and long after this time, the Rastafari were persecuted and considered the outcasts of society. But Margarita championed their cause and their creativity. She used her status as a headlining dancer, a woman from a wealthy family, and her talent to help bridge the class divide by introducing their sounds to the stage. Just a few days later, on September 8, 1961, a photo of Count Ossie and his drummers appear with the caption “Bearded Sounds.” The following month an advertisement for a show at Adastra Gardens appears for Count Ossie, calling his sound “Strange Music from Africa.” All of this was amid article after article of horrible treatment of the Rastafari, headlines claiming they burned babies as a sacrifice, were lunatics, and were murdered, were common during these years. Here are a few of them, and only a few, from 1961 and 1962:








rasta4rasta5 rasta6














I post these to put into context what Margarita did by supporting the drums of Count Ossie. She took a great risk. Prince Buster may have brought the drums to the studio, but Margarita brought them beyond the hills, beyond Orange Street, to the audiences that viewed the Rastafari as these articles present them. She was a true renegade and a heroine and we owe her a great debt.

This Man Is Back

From the Star Newspaper, May 13, 1962.

From the Star Newspaper, May 13, 1962.

Don Drummond was admitted a number of times to Bellevue Mental Hospital–sometimes at his own doing, other times at Her Majesty’s Pleasure, namely the last time. The song, “This Man is Back,” was composed by Drummond after one of his stints in the hospital. It was released in 1961 for Coxsone Dodd’s All Stars label.

I recently came across this article in the Star Newspaper from May 13, 1962. It is titled, “The return of Don Drummond,” and it reads, “Ossie’s Lucas Inn, 15 Mountain View Avenue, seems the ideal spot for all jazz fans this afternoon with the presentation of a terrific afternoon of live jazz, featuring the return of Drummond on trombone. Drummond, whose skill on the trombone is well known, will be playing with the Carlos Malcolm Conbo,Carlos also producing sounds on the T-Bone. In fact, the session,which starts at 4:00 p.m.,will mark the return of another Jamaican jazz wizard, Tommy McCook (tenor sax) who returned last week from engagements in Nassau. Other musicians in the session are Baba Motta, piano, Taddy Mowatt,bass, and Carl McLeod, drums.”

From the Star Newspaper, May 18,1962.

From the Star Newspaper, May 18,1962.


A Star Newspaper article on Friday, May 18, 1962 previewed a subsequent McCook show with the title, “Tommy McCook for Lucas Inn.” It read, “Tommy McCook, Jamaican tenor saxophonist who has been creating quite a sensation since his recent return from Nassau,will be playing tonight and tomorrow night at Lucas Inn, Mountain View Avenue. In recent weeks, Lucas Inn has been a spot for “the most” jazz fans and Sunday last Tommy brought the house down when he appeared on the session, which included names as Don Drummond, trombone, Rolan Alphanso [sic. Roland Alphonso], tenor saxophone, Baba Motta, piano, and Billy Cooke, trumpet, among others. Tommy has been busy preparing some new sounds for his engagements. He sounds off tonight at 9:00.”

Experiences of an Inmate in a Mental Hospital part two

From the Star Newspaper, April 20, 1961.

From the Star Newspaper, April 20, 1961.


The past two weeks I have taken a break from the seven-part series I uncovered in the Star Newspaper called Experiences of an Inmate in a Mental Hospital to devote my blog to Rico Rodriguez. Now I return to that series with part two, which is titled, I Join the Working Party by Christopher W. Rowe. This article ran on Thursday, April 20, 1961. Of particular note in this article, I think, is the identification of the medication injection problem at Bellevue (I discussed in the first part of this series why this is definitely Bellevue that Rowe writes of, although it is never named) since I believe this is the cause of Don Drummond’s death, medication administered improperly or with an incomprehension of the effects. Also of note is that the D ward is where murderers were kept. This is where Don Drummond was, as I’ve written in my book, Don Drummond: The Genius and Tragedy of the World’s Greatest Trombonist. Many officials who were related to the situation told me this, and here is a discussion of that ward. A final note, the revelation Rowe makes about the overflowing sewers and unsanitary conditions.


Here is part two of Experiences of an Inmate in a Mental Hospital by Chrisopher W. Rowe:

I join the working party
I was made to join a working party for more advanced convalescent patients. I was sent to the tailor shop. This consisted of a different routine. We left the ward at about 6:25 AM for the dining hall where we were served early coffee and bread, the same six ounces. After that we left for our working places, some to field parties, some to sanitary gangs, some as messengers, some to the carpenter’s shop, some blacksmiths, some tinsmiths, some to the doctor’s quarters and the matron’s also. My party went to the tailor’s shop. A few would be claimed for the kitchen from about five in the morning and some for the dining hall to wash tables and dishes. In the tailor’s shop I started to make buttonholes on shirts pants and nightgowns made by other patients until I was given a trial at the machines, one foot machine and a few hand ones. I was not new to tailoring so was able to make everything made there, from a shirt, nightgown, trousers, sheets and pillowcases.


At 11 o’clock we working patients were made to be in the dining hall; there we were served a pint of porridge, cornmeal, and half of bread and a bit of cheese, then after that returning to our repetitive working places to carry on until one o’clock at which time we joined with those from the ward that eat in the dining hall. At five o’clock we finished the day with the same route, after that to bed. On Sundays at ten in the mornings a party from the four main wards O, G, B, and N, go to church which is situated near the female division which also sends a party of female patients to attend. The party of male patients would be under the charge of the head nurse or chief charge from N Ward, which ward even though one is the smallest is always the boss in such things, the reasons being that their patients are much better behaved and likewise it carries a lesser amount of attendants so at times the entire ward is made to turn out. (Since they would be short of attendants none would be available to remain with patients in the ward, so all patients about 50 would join the various parties).

At about two o’clock or just after the mid-day meal they have what is called a walking party where the patients go and sit down out on the lawn nearby the church for about two hours. This party partly comprises the same church goers with no exceptions. This walking party is carried on every evening from day to day except if rain or if they are badly short of attendants. I was a member of all the parties. On Tuesday mornings there would be another party known as sea-bathing party who would be called about nine in the morning from the four main wards to go down to the sea and bathe and return at about half past ten.

This took place on three days per week, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, at the same hour every morning. There is a dental party on Tuesdays for those patients with bad teeth. They would be warned on the Monday to be taken to the dentist Tuesday evening about two o’clock whose office would be at the female division.

He would first treat a party of female patients for attending to the males. The system is for him to start there on the females a long while before so by the time the males reach he would be on the tail end. On public holidays most working patients are given a treat together with some well-behaved ones picked from the various wards, of bun and lemonade or at times cream and cake also candy. I was there on the first of August 1934 on which day we were served bun and lemonade.

A patient that is open to be visited receives the caution wherever he happens to be whether in the ward or out in a party whether working party or otherwise. The visitor attends to the waiting room whose officer has a book with the muster of the various wards. The visitor gives the name of the patient he or she wants to see. The waiting attendant looks it up until he finds it then writes out a bit of paper with the patient’s name as follows – John Brown to be seen – he hands this to a patient orderly or runner who takes it to the ward indicated and there he knocks at the door until it is opened by an attendant who forwards the note to the chief in charge or chief charge of the ward who calls out for the patient.

If he is in the ward he is easily found; if not the books are searched to see what party he is in unless he is not connected to that ward. If he is in a party they tend for him right away, a visit being termed a dispatch or emergency. All parties are guided by books from the sea bathing, church, walking, dental and also another party called dressing party, (patients with small sores but not serious enough for them to be sent to hospital and detained wards).

These are taken to hospital where the sores are bathed in warm water and dressed and made to return to their respective wards. There is a ward known as the Detention Ward or Limbo where are placed murderers, men who are arrested and tried in the courts but deemed insane. There is a tuberculosis ward, another wards known as sea ward where patients suffering from dysentery or fever are made to stay. There is also a private patients ward were 21 shillings per week is paid for the patients to stay by his relatives.

There is also a canteen attached to the institution where if money is lodged in the office for you, it can be utilised by drawing things. They are such as biscuits, aerated water, bathing soap, cigarettes etc. The process of drawing things is to lead the head nurse sign a chit or voucher for whatever you require within the amount lodged your account which he in turn hands to the canteen officer, fulfills the written request, which is handed to the patient.

After being there for about two months I was examined by Dr. Myers who was second in command at the time. He in turn sent me to the medical superintendent, discharged me to my father, who had come for me. That was 23 August 1934 and I was made a free person once more. It was more a prison than a hospital.

On a patients being considered fit to be recommended to be discharged to return home he is first examined by the ward doctor who reports it and after that a more senior doctor who considers him fit to see the medical superintendent on examining the patient directs that he be made to go or not if he thinks fit.

The institution has the main office which is occupied by more doctors, a medical officer, and two others. Attached to it is the pay clerk’s office which comprises a cashier or chief storekeeper, chief clerk or assistant storekeeper, his senior assistant and paymaster. Nearby are the provision stores and clothing stores in which are things sent down by the tender board such as cloths to make clothing for patients, foodstuffs to be used in the kitchen, attendant uniform and all other things in such places.

The general muster of all the wards at the time was about 700 with a female division of about 200 making a total of about 900. This was in 1934. Now it has gone up to about two thousand.

It also has a dispensary attended by a dispenser whole time in charge. His duties are to take the blood, test the patients, their saliva and using for the purpose of being tested. He is also in charge of the distribution of medicine to the various wards in the female division as well. A clinic is attached to the institution where revisiting psychiatric social worker gives injection in the lower arm. I was given one turned a sore that lasted me about a month. I had to get it bathe and dress. On the last Wednesdays of each month a check is made of all condemned thing such as patients clothing, bedding comprising of seats pillowcases old pillows, nightgown and old mattress case at times also brooms, old used hands, benches, tables, attendance clothings also chair, canvas cot that are destroyed whether by patient or worn out, are heaped up and placed before a man from the Kingston Public Works of not less than the grade of an assistant superintendent of works who sorts things to see if they are to be used furthermore to be condemned.

If marked off it is stamped condemned and replacements recommended to the management no matter what amounts condemned. It is called a board of… Condemned stock… A dosier from the office attendance to it and likewise represents the institution and … Who is also the assistant…

This institution carries the tailor shop, a carpenter shop, a tinsmith, a blacksmith, a plumber, a mason, a painter and a field party. All the working places are staffed with patients under the supervision of tradesmen attendants who are able to instruct the patients at the various trades.

At the field they weed grass with machete sharpened on grindstones. They also use hoe and pick axes at their carry-ons out the field where they plant garden pepper and the likes. The attendants clothing are made downtown but those of the patients are made in the tailor’s shop except in extreme cases then clothes would be sent out to a tailor in Kingston for him to make some. Mostly shirts and pants.

The carpenter shop produces benches, chairs, tables, do small repairs to doors of buildings like wards and storerooms etc. It is a more serious job the public works sends up the carpenters to do it.
The painter does small paintings such as on canvas cots and canvas chairs. The Mason re-smooths any disrupted surface from time to time.

The plumber and the blacksmith are to see to it that all the pipes of the institution are in order both he and the blacksmith. The institution has a sewerage system which easily goes bad at times causing great inconveniences both at the male and female divisions. It is the duty of the tinsmith to both make and repair cans and pans also large tin pots used in the kitchen for cooking, or ordinary containers. It is not unusual to see sewers choked and running over for days until the plumbing party reaches that section and places it in order.

In the hospital or admission ward there is compulsory bathing on Saturdays which is also clothes changing day. In the main wards it is just the same compulsory bathing on Saturdays and change of clothing. They are the patient is given his hands filled with soft soap which he uses to lather his skin under the shower then washes it off. There are about three taps in a bathroom which is occupied the entire Saturday morning the process of serving diets in B Ward is that the cooked things are brought from the kitchen by patients under the supervision of an attendant which in turn is transferred to pans placed in a large tray with handles and carried by two patients one in front and the other in the rear, and attendant keeps up with it and hands it out on both sides to patients who are made to sit along both sides of the lane.

The patient would at times sneak up and grab a diet but would be chased and captured and the diet taken away by an attendant and he, the patient, would be locked in a cell for the period. There he would be served his meal with a caution.
There are patients who grab from other patients and are generally caught and locked away. If there action become very habitual they are locked away during meal hours. There is another class of patients who are in the habit of either having away their diets or exchanging it for tobacco. These are locked away and fed in cells likewise, in order to stop their habits
A patient that is visited by relatives is taken out to the waiting room as soon as he is announced where he receives whatever is brought for him. If it be things to be eaten he eats it there, he is also allowed to receive small coins up to 2/– which he can used to buy things at the canteen.

Memories of Rico

I uncovered a few new photos of Rico while looking through Star Newspaper archives this week. I thought I’d share them with you. Rico was so much more than a trombonist for The Specials, as many of the obituaries I’ve read seem to forget. Here are some visions of Rico from the past, though his spirit and music will live forever.


rico star5

From the Star Newspaper, October 17, 1961.

The above article reads, “Rico is one of the most improved local musicians in the history of the profession. He brings back a literally dead instrument (the trombone) [see, even back then they misunderstood the meaning of the word literally! Feel like I’m talking to a teenager] on the market. Rico walked into the local recording industry with his trombone and has astonished most local musicians and music lovers who didn’t know the trombone could have taken top place on the local Rock ‘N’ Roll recording industry. Rico Rodriguez, unlike Taddy Mowatt, top bass player who was introduced to local audiences by Baba Motta, had no introduction. He came in this profession when local musicians and audiences refused to recognize the trombone. In fact, three of our excellent trombonists, Carl Masters, John Nelson and Ruby Anderson, put down the trombone to learn other instruments so that they could remain in the musical field. Rico’s music can be heard on nearly every local recording. He has over one hundred records on the local market and he is enjoying a wide range of popularity. This twenty-two-year-old musician earned the top place on his instrument this year, because he took time to study the trombone. It can be admitted that he experienced many trials and disappointments in his struggle for fame, but as he said, ‘where ever I go to play today, the people love me and give me all the ovation I need.'” — Micky O’ Bryan.

It is interesting to note the omission of Don Drummond from this article, and one can only speculate why. The writer of this article, O’Bryan, was himself a musician, a saxophonist and leader of his own band. Could that be a factor? Also, Don Drummond wasn’t playing anywhere live during this time, perhaps in Bellevue. Could that be a factor? Interesting to consider.


From the Star Newspaper, November 28, 1961

From the Star Newspaper, November 28, 1961


From the Star Newspaper, November 28, 1961 for a performance with Owen Gray at the Ward Theatre promoted by Worldisc and Coxsone Records.

From the Star Newspaper, November 28, 1961 for a performance with Owen Gray at the Ward Theatre promoted by Worldisc and Coxsone Records.


From the Star Newspaper, December 14, 1961.

From the Star Newspaper, December 14, 1961, with Bobby Gaynair.




Tribute to Rico

From left to right, Rico Rodriguez, Don Drummond, and Carlos Malcolm, three trombone masters with Sonny Bradshaw's Band in the 1950s.

From left to right, Rico Rodriguez, Don Drummond, and Carlos Malcolm, three trombone masters with Sonny Bradshaw’s Band in the 1950s.

I was so sad to learn this morning that Rico Rodriguez has died. He was one of the sweetest men I’ve ever had the pleasure of talking to and had a genuine warm spirit and immeasurable talent. The world is a better place because of the talent and joy that Rico gave to all of us, his fans.

Emmanuel Rodriguez, also known as Rico, Reco, or El Reco, was born on October 17, 1934 and he spent his entire life dedicated to music. I interviewed Rico a number of times over the phone, about his career, his relationship with Don Drummond, and his days at Alpha Boys School. Here’s a bit of our conversation from 2011 that have been excerpted from my book, Don Drummond: The Genius and Tragedy of the World’s Greatest Trombonist.

Rico says he came to Alpha Boys School at the behest of his mother, Amy. “My mother think that I need some correction, you know? She was working. I used to go down to the waterfront. It was rough. Rough,” says Rico. So instead of going to school, Rico went to the docks to hustle for money from the sailors who came into port. When he got hit by a car and was seriously injured, Rico’s mother had him sent to Alpha, afraid for his safety and life. He says that he tried many trades at Alpha before finding music as his occupation. “The first job I did in Alpha was in the garden. We didn’t have a jet, a jet-type to water the garden. We used to take a paint pan and dip it into a hole for the water. We used to catch the water and water the plants like that. And sometime you eat what you grow, carrot, beet root, the onions and everyting, you know? I used to go to the pottery too, learn to make brick and pot, with clay, with clay, yea. And to get that special shine into the clay you have to use horse dung and lead and then when it goes into the kiln it shines in the pot, but I used to be in the garden most of the time. It wasn’t easy to get into the band. I tried, but I get in because I have a few friends in the band, like Don Drummond and Tony Brown and Ossie Hall, a few good friends in the band. They take me in and I decide to do horns, horns. F horns, F horns. I used to play that thing and you just play ‘pop pop pop pop,’ you know? I did a lot of different instruments before. A little trumpet and saxophones, there were two saxophones. The most things they had at school was clarinet and trumpet. Trombones were full so I didn’t go on trombone. The bandmaster [Reuben Delgado] was very good at it, you know. Anyone who come out of that teaching was brilliant. He was the bandmaster, the bandmaster, so him keep the show. Delgado was the man in charge and the bigger ones look after us.”

One of the bigger ones who looked after Rico was Don Drummond. Rico told me, “I met him in the band and he was an excellent player and he show me things. He was a little bit quiet, you know? A very very quiet person. You don’t know what he’s going to do next, you know? Not like a lot of others, he was a quiet man. He don’t talk a lot, quiet. He was my friend, my friend. Through the bandmaster and on account of the band, he was a trombone teacher, you know? He write some different things we used to play and so forth, so there is always someone from the band that can teach you something. When he write the music he get you to come and sit with you and play the music with you. He taught me the double tongue and things like that, yea, different styles. Don was first trombone. And I was a learner, a learner (laughs). I’m a student. I’m a new player in the band at that time. I used to take his stand in his practice. When the band goes out I carry his stand, music stand, carry the music for him. The ones who were more advanced show the ones who were not so advanced. He used to give me some scales to study, one or two scales for the day and he would see how I was getting on. He show me everything. He’d play the scale and show me before so I get the feel, you know? He was tough on me, tough on me. He told me, ‘If you want to be a musician you have to take everything seriously and practice.’ He was okay with me. He was a friend, a friendly-type of person.”

After his time at Alpha, Rico performed in a number of bands around Kingston and on a number of recordings in the studios at the birth of the recording industry. He spent time in the Wareika Hills with his fellow musicians and Rastas and entitled his first album in 1976, “Man from Wareika.” He talked to me about his time in the hills.



“Count Ossie was like a chief. He was like a chief in the hills. Everyone look up to him. Once he told me he wanted to learn trumpet but he was more into the drums, so he played the drums instead of the trumpet. A lot of Rastas around and I used to go home. I used to go home. We go away and play and I don’t go back to my mother’s house no more until I’m ready to come to England. I was leaving from Wareika Hills to come to England. Some of us stay in Wareika Hills. It was safe there. We cook and eat and they had Wareika school for the children to teach them about history. Communication everyday was about prayers, psalms and we chant psalms and play instruments. No really bed, just makeshift, yeah. Rough living, you know? No house, shelter, sheltered place. Everybody lived in stiffs, a variety of stiffs, you know? But it was a community. We play music all day, all day, all day and night. When we go, he [Don Drummond] used to tell me, ‘Don’t play man, just listen. Don’t play, just listen to me.’ Sometimes I get to play with him sometimes. Listening to Drummond gave me a much deeper opportunity to hear it. Not being in a band, just free playing. I am happy to have heard him playing the trombone with the drums around him, more than anything else. He was a Rasta in the Wareika Hills, so I went. I used to go up there and look for them, you know, if Drummond was one of the trombone players, so I just go and look for him and he could give me a good ting or two. When we go to Wareika Hills we used to play together. Sometimes he was so busy I don’t wait for him. Sometimes he call me to go play with him. And when I go up to Wareika then I used to go home, you know? And he said to me, ‘Rico mon, you see this area? Come up.’ And when he used to tell me that, I stay at Wareika and I don’t leave until I leave for England. I never leave that year until I was coming to England. He was a good man. He was so excellent, he was so good that I want to be as good as him so I work real hard, reading and so forth, writing. When he write the music, he get you to come and sit with you and play the music with you. Drummond was a quiet person, but he was my very good friend, you know? I held his music stand fe him. Whenever he wrote any music he always call me to come play it with him, you know? He was a very good person. He was a very good person. He always come and pick me up to go and practice with him, you know? And sometimes I didn’t have a trombone and I used to go and borrow his trombone. But sometime he don’t want to lend me. Before he give me he always shine it up. ‘Look after this and bring it back.’ I didn’t have one, he used to lend me his.”

Today, we lost a member of our band and although it is a sad day, we celebrate the music of this incredible legend.


Enjoy a selection of my favorite Rico tunes:

“Rudy, A Message to You,” by Dandy Livingston with Rico on trombone

The Specials’ “A Message to You Rudy,” featuring Rico

“Trombone Man” from Tribute to Don Drummond

“Rockfort Rock”–a Don Drummond/Skatalites tune by Rico & His Band

Rico singing and playing “I’m in the Mood for Love” with Jools Holland


To read a wonderful interview with Rico on the Reggae Vibes website, click HERE.

A fascinating documentary clip HERE.

Experience of an Inmate at Bellevue Mental Hospital

From "Experiences of an Inmate in a Mental Institution," by Christopher W. Rowe, Jamaica Star, Wednesday, April 19, 1961.

From “Experiences of an Inmate in a Mental Institution,” by Christopher W. Rowe, Jamaica Star, Wednesday, April 19, 1961.


In my book, Don Drummond: The Genius and Tragedy of the World’s Greatest Trombonist, I write extensively of the treatment and experiences Don Drummond likely had at Bellevue Mental Hospital during his numerous stays in the 1960s and his ultimate death there in 1969. I have visited there twice, once unaccompanied, and the sights I saw, the conditions in which the patients were made to live, the facilities and buildings that these people called home were horrifying. I can only imagine the treatment they received, and this was just a few years ago. The conditions during Drummond’s stay were rudimentary at best, and the medications he received are now banned–too dangerous, too deadly. He ran away a number of times on his own, unable to continue with the treatment. It was awful.

The way that the mentally ill were treated during the time of Drummond’s life was cruel. Drummond was spat upon, teased by his own band mates, laughed at, pointed at, and he was called a madman. He was misunderstood. So imagine my surprise when today I scanned the pages of a Star Newspaper from April, 1961 to find one inmate giving his own account of his stay in a mental hospital, in an attempt to be understood, accepted, and expose the conditions inside. The seven-part series ran from April 19, 1961 through April 27, 1961.

The mental hospital is not named, but it is in Kingston, and so we can assume correctly that it is Bellevue. The only psychiatric hospital in the whole country was Bellevue. In the late 1930s, when the following account takes place, Bellevue was not yet named as such, so this article does indeed reference the same facility that Don Drummond was at and three decades prior to his time there. Additionally, the individuals the author reference were officials at what became Bellevue. I have long heard about outdoor “cages” at Bellevue that were used to imprison patients. The following account seems to confirm this in the passage where the author recounts his experience being placed in a “railed room,” a “compartment,” after being hit by a staff member.

I find this account fascinating since it is likely the day-to-day existence that Don Drummond had while a patient at Bellevue, something that until I have found this text, was mere speculation based upon memories. His medical records have long since been destroyed (I was officially told they were destroyed in a hurricane) or officials choose to leave the records buried. In the coming days I will continue to post these accounts, but for now, here is part one, from the Jamaica Star, Wednesday, April 19, 1961, of Experiences of an Inmate in a Mental Hospital by Christopher W. Rowe:

I was arrested in Port Antonio on Sunday, third June, 1934, and placed in custody until the Wednesday, 6th June. I was handed over to the police by my father who presumed that I was acting strangely, but no offense was committed by me. My father is now dead, died on the 2nd June, 1960, and was buried the 3rd, June. I was taken by motor car taxi at the time to the railway where I was placed aboard the train for the mental hospital under escort of a constable. The constable told me that in his possession was a strait jacket, a thing made pull-over fashion with the sleeves on the inside so that a person that is placed in one could not move his arms until it is taken off him. I had the happiness of not being placed in it. We went along all right, reached the Kingston end of the railway and was taken to the hospital by animal drawn hackney carriage buggy. There were buggies at the time in Kingston playing for hire June 6, 1934. (Nowadays the escorts are by police service cars driven by uniformed constables).
My Mistake
On reaching the institution I was taken to the medical office which is the main office it being a medical corps. And there I was examined by the medical superintendent (Dr. R.D. Hewson) which was procedure at the time. The examination took the form of questioning and I in turn answering what I could manage.

I made out good enough but was a bit bleary and was told that as soon as I was cooled down I would be all right. The constable left and I was taken over by an attendant or male nurse (equal to a warder in the prison service) and taken to the ward or hospital compound. The time was about 12 noon.
The administration ward is made up of two wards, one for patients with sores and the other for cleaner patients.

On being taken to the ward or sleeping quarters my street clothing was taken away by the head nurse or chief charge (the senior person in charge of the ward at the time) and I was issued a nightgown made of Osnabergh, a whitish looking material worn in government institutions by both patients of this hospital and prisoners.

All went well until about an hour after admission I mistook an attendant for a police man I know at Half Way Tree even though he the attendant was in khaki uniform. I said something to him and he hit me in my head with a heavy ruling stick he had ruling up a book. About two hits he gave me. I felt groggy and was taken and placed in a railed room, a compartment that you can see outside and likewise can be seen from the outside by others. I was made to remain there until the night shift which was six o’clock.

(The constable for whom I took the attendant and the attendant himself are brothers. The constable’s name is Black and the attendant’s Jackson, sons of the same mother I heard).

The night attendant enquired of me why I was there. I told him I did not know. He opened the door and jerked me and pushed me to the wall, he afterwards slammed the door and went his way.

The next morning I was taken out of the room (temporarily) for it to be washed… I was issued a piece of canvas in order that it could be spread on the floor for the purpose of laying down whether to sleep or rest the legs.

I was after that given something to eat consisting of a bread baked at the general penitentiary and a can of cocoa.

The Diet
The bread is made of cassava mixed with flour and weighs about six ounces about one o’clock I was given a flat pan commonly called a pudding pan, with something to eat comprising the half of a bread (same six ounces loaf cut into) a piece of potato, some liquid matter which must be gravy and a piece of meat grounded or crushed. Five o’clock that evening I was again given another six ounces bread and a can of cocoa very weak and scanty of sugar.

After that we bedded down for the night, I still being in the room with the bit of canvas. The other patients with the exceptions of those that were in rooms were given beds. It being the admission ward it was single iron bedsteads with mattress and blankets the same as in public hospitals with a few canvas cots to make up the required number. The census of the wards called A2 was about fifty and the other A1 about thirty.

Whilst in the room for about four nights I was given one of the canvas cots on being told that my behavior was very much better. I was still given the same diet every morning and evening with changes in the mid-day meal, sometimes rice and other times cocoas with salt fish with the same liquid composition. I was taken out of the room and given an iron bed the same as the other patients in the open ward. The day after being out of the room I was taken to the dosier in charge of the ward (Dr. James) who sounded me and enquired of my feelings and of my behavior from the head nurse (Mr. S.C. Young). He reported favorably.

The doctor recommended that I could smoke if I wanted. I was given a pipe and a bit of tobacco from the store and re-taken to the ward. On going to see the doctor I was given a trousers which was reclaimed after returning. I remained in the admission ward for 20 days from the 6th June to the 26th June. I was issued a pants permanently to wear with the nightgown about three days before being transferred to the convalescent ward which are four in number – O Ward, G Ward, B Ward, and N Ward.

I was transferred to B Ward which was the worst at the time where the patients are more ferocious and bad behaving. This ward consisted of about 200 patients with about six attendants.

A chief charge who wore khaki with red stripes and three small stripes on his jacket sleeves as his office insignia, a second in charge dressed the same with two stripes on his sleeve and to senior staff nurses or attendants with one stripe each and two juniors who only wore ordinary khaki.

This ward consisted of one sleeping ward for about sixty patients and about fifty cells also a railed court where disorderly patients are placed during the day. At nights they are taken out and placed in the cells or if not they are taken to some other tenant wards known as sleeping wards which are known as D Range, Q Ward, E and L and H Wards. Those being tenant wards of B Wards where it’s surplus sleep at nights. In the mornings they are made to return and remain in the ward compound for the day’s routine which consists of tea in the morning, a different thing altogether from what goes on in the A Ward or admission ward.

Here (B Ward) you are given a six ounce bread and a pudding pan of cornmeal porridge – Sunday morning, Monday morning the same Tuesday, a pan of bush tea and the bread same six ounces, Wednesday, same as Sunday, Thursday same as Tuesday, Friday same as Wednesday, Saturday same as Thursday until Sunday again. At times the midday meal consists of rice and peas with salt fish slab fashion.

On Mondays and Tuesdays soup mostly gungo peas with potatoes and a small bit of beef. Wednesdays it would be same as Mondays, Thursdays, salt beef fixed with heavy liquid. Friday is the same as Tuesdays. On both occasions you get a half of bread accompanying the soup.

Saturdays you are given a saltfish water with whatever food kind on hand whether potatoes or yams but this days diet is not relished by any patient no matter how crude he be. It was afterwards abolished.

Unpeeled Food
(The foodstuffs in the admission ward were peeled but not so in the convalescent ward. There they were served cooked in the skin or peel-yams, potatoes and cocoas).

On Sundays we were given the same sort of mid-day diet as that served on Thursdays. The evening diet as it is called, consists of a six ounces bread and a pan of bush tea every day, sometimes ginger is in it and sometimes bush alone which is supplied by the Tender Board same as the rest of the things used. At nights I was made to sleep down at the D Ward or D Range as it was called in the railed room on a canvas cot. I was locked in at about seven o’clock by the attendant on night duty and reopened at six in the morning in order to be on my way to the main ward to be rechecked for the day.

We were allowed to smoke. We were issued a bit of tobacco about three inches long on Wednesdays and Saturdays which we minced up and folded in cigarette fashion with newspaper and smoked. The pipe that was issued to me was retaken from me before I was transferred from the admission ward.

After being in the admission ward for 14 days, I was visited by my sister who was a dweller in Kingston at the time (it is a regulation of the institution for a patient to be allowed visitors after the expiration of 14 days if he has anyone to visit him). She, my sister, enquired of me what I would want.

The head nurse told her that I could be given a pair of soft shoes that in case I was one that meant to kick any other patient I could not hurt him greatly. She left and returned with the shoes, some things cooked by herself and a newspaper, that day’s edition, also a shilling in order to buy cigarettes at the canteen. I was afterwards visited about twice per week by her until discharged.

We kept up our daily routine as already related until I was made to join a party that ate out in the main dining hall.
New Faces
There you see patients from all the other convalescent wards they being as follows – O Ward who sent a party, G Court or G Ward with the same name, and N Ward with all their patients they being the boss of the dining hall.

Here the diets are the same in the majority of those served in the ward with the exception of a few semi private patients who are served sliced bread and jam in the mornings with green tea in cans; in the midday a mixture of custard in a can, the same sliced bread with grounded meat and rice.

In the afternoon they get the same fare as in the mornings. There are a few patients from G Court who are given what is called crushed diet. It being whatever is served to the ordinary patients being grounded in a mill. The cause of it either due to bad stomach or loss of teeth.

Most patients that are transferred to G Court are those that suffer from fits or apoplexy.

The dining hall is attached to the kitchen from where everything is issued for the dining hall. First thing a patient is issued a flat pan afterwards a bread and down the table a big pan is pushed in which tea or porridge (cornmeal) is served by an attendant in the khaki uniform. In the middle day you are served a spoon with your diet not so in the ward. The dining hall is more orderly.

The ordinary diet is called a diet, those for the semi-private patients D diet, and for the G Court patients crushed diet. There is another diet called B diet consisting of a bread cut in half but not served with butter inserted which is served to few of the ordinary recommended by the ward doctor. He is at the main office but visits the wards at times.

Tomorrow—Christopher joins the working party—one of the many groups within the institution.

The Flintstones at the World’s Fair!

From The Flintstones souvenir comic book of the 1964 World's Fair.

From The Flintstones souvenir comic book of the 1964 World’s Fair.


Okay, so we know the controversy surrounding the selection of certain musicians and vocalists to represent Jamaica at the 1964 World’s Fair in New York and the omission of others. For those who are still feeling enraged that the Skatalites weren’t selected to travel with the delegates to promote ska, what will it do to their sensibilities now to know that the Flintstones were even there, at the Singer Bowl, at the World’s Fair! That’s right, the Flintstones–Fred, Barney, Wilma, Betty, Bam-Bam, Pebbles, and yes, even Dino!


02241301 From the souvenir comic book for the 1964 World’s Fair.

So in this text, Fred ducks into the Singer Bowl to get away from guards. Sounds like an original rude boy to me, eh? Dance crasher! A girl can dream, but actually, in the story there is a track meet going on at the time. The Singer Bowl was used for concerts, such as the one where Millie Small performed during that exhibition, along with Eric “Monty” Morris and Prince Buster and others with Byron Lee & the Dragonaires as the backing band. The Singer Bowl, however, was also used for track events, such as the Olympic trials that same year. Years later it was used for the Doors concert (The Who was the opening band) where the famous riot took place, and Jimi Hendrix performed that same year as well, 1968. Led Zepplin and Janis Joplin also performed here. The venue, however, was built for the World’s Fair and located in Flushing Meadow Park in Queens. The opening ceremony of the World’s Fair was held here and Lyndon B. Johnson attended. The Singer Bowl was one of the first examples of a corporation purchasing naming rights for a stadium, which is now common practice. Singer, the sewing machine company, had a number of exhibits underneath the bleacher stadium, highlighting fashion and their company’s equipment, which also included vacuum cleaners, typewriters, and even computing devices. The stadium was an open-air arena that could seat 15,000 people. It also played host to boxing, tennis, and martial arts competitions.


The Singer Bowl during the 1964 World's Fair.

The Singer Bowl during the 1964 World’s Fair.

singer bowl Singer_Bowl

The Singer Bowl no longer stands in its original form, although it is important to ska history as a launchpad for Jamaica’s music worldwide. The Singer Bowl today is the Louis Armstrong Stadium at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center and it was converted to this use and remodeled in the early 1970s. It was named after Armstrong, the legendary jazz musician, who lived nearby and died in 1971.


Don Drummond and the Murder of Margarita

Looking into Don Drummond's home on 9 Rusden Road. Photo by Heather Augustyn

Looking into Don Drummond’s home on 9 Rusden Road. Photo by Heather Augustyn


I have heard over the years, read in books, and still hear today that on that fateful night, January 1, 1965, that Margarita did not give Don Drummond his medication, or gave it to him late, thus causing him to sleep through his Skatalites gig and, in anger, stab her when she returned on January 2nd in the wee hours of the morning. I want to take a moment to address this myth because I think what this argument does is very subtly places blame on Margarita for her demise, takes away some of the responsibility from Don, and gives some sort of justification or reason where there is no reason other than untreated insanity.

First on this matter, an excerpt from my book, Don Drummond: The Genius and Tragedy of the World’s Greatest Trombonist.

But many have thought over the years that Drummond became upset when he finally awoke to find he had not only slept through his performance, but that Margarita was gone. His defenders claim that Margarita manipulated his medication dosage or gave it to him late so she could go dance at the Baby Grand on Crossroads for her first show, and at Club Havana in Rockfort where she had her residency to dance the rumba for wealthy gawking men. There is no way to prove such a claim that Margarita somehow altered Drummond’s medicine he took to treat his schizophrenia, nor is there any way that anyone would know such information. Zola Buckland Sergi, Margarita’s niece, feels that many fans, band mates, or Rastafarians are skeptical of the events and merely looking for an explanation, looking to put the onus on Margarita for Drummond’s actions. She dispels this myth saying, “People say she must have given him his medication improperly and so he slept through it. She didn’t give him his medication! He took his own medication! My mom said it was impossible and people are looking for a reason why he killed her. The reason is, he was nuts!”

Now, let’s take a moment to think logically about this argument. How would anyone know that Margarita gave Don his medication late or not at all? Don never showed up at his gig that night, so he never left the house and was asleep. Margarita, the only person involved in the interchange, was dead, so was unable to tell anyone that she had done such a thing. If Don later told someone that Margarita had given him his medication late, that would be an excuse offered by the murderer, so is suspect, and has never been stated by any of the musicians. Instead, what we have are musicians or friends of Don who offer this as a sequence of events, as a way to provide reasoning. It is blaming the victim of abuse and it simply defies logic. But it speaks to the love for Don, that his friends and musicians would want to protect him, give him a reason. The reason, as Zola says, is he was insane and it was untreated properly. That is the reason, the only reason, and it is sad and horrible, but time that we accept it.

Here’s a similar blog post I wrote in October 2013. Still the myth persists, so I write it again.


Carlos Malcolm to release book this fall!

Carlos Malcolm and Heather Augustyn on July 30, 2015 in Palm Bay, Florida. Photo by Linda Martin.

Carlos Malcolm and Heather Augustyn on July 30, 2015 in Palm Bay, Florida. Photo by Linda Martin.


I had the honor of visiting with the legendary Carlos Malcolm and his lovely daughter Michelle Williams while in Florida last week and was so pleased to learn that Mr. Malcolm will be releasing his own book this fall! It will be the story of the rise of Jamaican music as he experienced it, as son of a trombone player; as bandleader of his own orchestra, Carlos Malcolm and the Afro-Jamaican Rhythms; and as music director as Jamaican Broadcasting Company and producer of Teenage Dance Party and Hit Parade. Mr. Malcolm played trombone for everyone was was involved with musicians and artists in almost every facet of the industry, from stage to studio. He said that the book is complete and is currently with the editor and will be released very soon! Please keep checking back here, or sign up for the mailing list here, to be kept in the loop on updates on this exciting new book from Mr. Malcolm!

Ronnie Nasralla still celebrating ska!

Ronnie Nasralla with his Order of Distinction that he received in 2013. Photographed in Nasralla's home by Heather Augustyn on July 25, 2015.

Ronnie Nasralla with his Order of Distinction that he received in 2013. Photographed in Nasralla’s home by Heather Augustyn on July 25, 2015.


This is the legendary Ronnie Nasralla, of Ronnie & Jannette fame, the two who taught the world to do the ska at the World’s Fair in New York in 1964. He is proudly showing his Order of Distinction that he received from the Jamaican government in 2013 for his contributions to music. He showed me his beautiful award on July 25, 2015 when I visited him in his home in Georgia to talk about his life and career. What a sweet man!

Among the topics we discussed were his days managing, and he revealed to me something that was not shocking, but still, it was incredible to hear from the mouth of someone who was there, who experienced it. Nasralla told me, “I was managing artists, Byron Lee, Blues Busters, The Maytals, and Eddie Seaga said to me that all these artists were being used by these producers. They were giving them like a penny for a record, if I could take them over, manage them and help them with recording, and so I said, ‘okay, I’ll do it.’ So I took over the artists and I recorded them and paid them twelve times more per record, and the downtown producers who were recording these artists threatened to kill me. He threaten me. He had four men threaten me. Coxsone Dodd.”

He also talked of his childhood and family and the fact that he is involved in many of the arts, such as theater and he paints as well. Here are a few of his paintings that are hanging on his wall.

Paintings by Ronnie Nasralla on the wall of his home. Photo taken by Heather Augustyn on July 25, 2015.

Paintings by Ronnie Nasralla on the wall of his home. Photo taken by Heather Augustyn on July 25, 2015.

Ronnie Nasralla with his art in his home on July 25, 2015, photo by Heather Augustyn

Ronnie Nasralla with his art in his home on July 25, 2015, photo by Heather Augustyn


He talked about discovering a female vocalist. Nasralla said, “There was a downtown bar I used to go into regularly, upstairs, and Boasie (Phillip James) said to me, ‘Ronnie, how is girl be like that downstairs that can sing?’ I asked him to have her come up so I could hear her and he brought up this girl and she sang for me. She said she couldn’t sing in front of me, she would sing behind the door. She sang from behind the door and I couldn’t believe it, she was so good. Marcia Griffiths. I wanted to use her on Byron Lee’s Christmas morning show and I asked Byron to use her and Bryon says no, he can’t use her, they are full. I said, ‘Byron, just use her on one song,’ and he said, ‘Okay, tell her to come.’ So I got my first wife, she was a hairdresser, to fix up her hair and I got a gown for her and she went on stage and she brought down the house! She sang ‘Born to Lose,’ and brought down the house and everyone called encore and she sang it a second time because she didn’t rehearse a second song. I started Marcia Griffiths. When I got my Order of Distinction, she was there and she said, ‘Ronnie, you started me. You got me where I got to.’ And I’ll never forget it.”

Heather Augustyn showing Ronnie Nasralla a photo of him dancing with Arthur Murray's wife, showing her how to do the ska, at the 1964 World's Fair in New York. Photo by Linda Martin, July 25, 2015.

Heather Augustyn showing Ronnie Nasralla a photo of him dancing with Arthur Murray’s wife, showing her how to do the ska, at the 1964 World’s Fair in New York. Photo by Linda Martin, July 25, 2015.


Ronnie Nasralla also told me how he came up with the different dance steps that he designed based on the moves he had seen at Chocomo Lawn in downtown Kingston, moves that he taught to crowds at the World’s Fair in New York in 1964. I have written about this many times and you can read more here and here and here and here. But Ronnie Nasralla regaled those long-ago days once again this past week to me, with a smile on his lips and a twinkle in his eye. He said, “Jannette danced at school with my sister. And when I went to promote the ska with Eddie Seaga, I asked her if she would do it. Eddie Seaga, we were very close friends, she was very close with my sister, he said there was music in Western Kingston where he comes from, he said it’s called ska, and I should get Byron to promote it. So I said, ‘Byron can’t promote it if he don’t know it.’ So he said they are having a dance at Chocomo Lawn and Eddie Seaga said, ‘Watch what the people are doing and see if you can come up with a brochure for people to dance the ska.’ So I mingled with the people and danced with them and came up with a brochure in about two weeks time and I give it to Eddie Seaga and he sent ska all over the world.”

When I told Ronnie Nasralla that people today still love ska all over the world, he didn’t believe me! Downtown, uptown, race, class, countries, ska knows no boundaries. Ska was created downtown through the ingenuity of the Alpha Boys and their colleagues, championed by the ambassadors of ska, like Ronnie Nasralla, Byron Lee, and Eddie Seaga, and the world has been dancing ever since! What a debt of gratitude we owe these originators and exponents of ska!

Ronnie Nasralla with Heather Augustyn, July 25, 2015. Photo by Linda Martin.

Ronnie Nasralla with Heather Augustyn, July 25, 2015. Photo by Linda Martin.

Eddie Seaga, former prime minister of Jamaica, with Heather Augustyn in February, 2015. Photo by Julianne Lee, Byron Lee's daughter.

Eddie Seaga, former prime minister of Jamaica, with Heather Augustyn in February, 2015. Photo by Julianne Lee, Byron Lee’s daughter.