JFK and Ska

busta

The 50th anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy on November 22nd reminded a friend of mine of ska. Intrigued, I asked him why. He responded with the songs that are related to the JFK assassination and, because I am not a record collector nor a matrix cruncher, I hadn’t been able to see the forest for the trees. Michael Turner of the Roots Knotty Roots database complied this list of ska songs related to the assassination:

Bongo Man “Jack Ruby Bound To Die (Kennedy’s Grave)”

Dee’s Group  “President Kennedy”

Roland Alphonso and His Group “Tribute To Kennedy”

Don Drummond  “JFK’s Memory”

Roland Alphonso and Lester Sterling “Lee Harvey Oswald”

Don Drummond  “Lee Harvey Oswald Junior”

Roland Alphonso and His Group “Jack Ruby (Crime Wave)”

It made me curious, what did Jamaica think of the JFK assassination? How did this newly independent nation experience the death of this leader? Here’s what I found.

The Daily Gleaner on November 26, 1963 wrote of Sir Alexander Bustamante’s reaction as the prime minister of Jamaica during this time. It was a story that ran on the Associated Press and Reuters newswires.

Sir Alexander Bustamante, prime minister of Jamaica, said today the assassination of President Kennedy means “we have all lost a true and great friend.” Sir Alexander, the ranking man of the Caribbean at the funeral services for Kennedy, arrived in Washington early today. He was given top protocol position for the nations south of the border, some of which have constitutional provisions restricting travel of their chief executives outside the country. Mexico, for example, forbids its president from leaving the country without specific approval of Congress. In some others internal political conditions may have been a factor. The Jamaican leader, tall and impressive despite his 79 years, seemed deeply moved by the death of Kennedy. “In Jamaica we all loved him and anyone could see it in the faces of the people,” Sir Alexander said. “Jamaica is a true and loyal friend of the United States and the West.” The little Caribbean island became the newest independent nation in the Western hemisphere in August, 1962 in a ceremony witnessed by Lyndon B. Johnson, then Vice-President of the United States and Prince Margaret of Great Britain. Sir Alexander came to know Johnson well during the Jamaican visit and had met Kennedy on various occasions, the last in June of this year when the Jamaican came to Washington on an unofficial visit. Despite the unofficial character of his trip, however, Kennedy received him at the White House and expressed a desire to visit Jamaica someday. The prime minister said government offices and schools in Jamaica closed today in official mourning for Kennedy.  “Our mourning, however something more than official,” Sir Alexander commented “The people of Jamaica mourn the passing of a true friend of our country, and today stores and businesses in Jamaica, although under no official requirement to close, have done so in tribute to the man whose memory we have all come here to honour on this sad day.” Sir Alexander was a prominent figure among the mourners later as the funeral procession left the White House grounds. Wearing a long tailed grey coat and a black armband he hurried to catch up with the other foreign dignitaries. He had apparently been cut off briefly as the mourners began their solemn walk to the cathedral.

manley

The leader of the opposition, Mr. Norman Manley, who had just served as prime minister of Jamaica and left office about a year and half prior to the assassination, had been in Philadelphia with his wife on business when the assassination took place. He issued the following statement in the Daily Gleaner on November 26, 1963.

It was a sad but moving and unforgettable experience to be in America on Friday and there the last two days. I was at the great Concert Hall in Philadelphia listening to their famous orchestra when the news of the assassination of President Kennedy came. The conductor soon announced that the concert would stop and we were all silently agreed. Outside there was an atmosphere of shock and grief and many were weeping as they went their ways. Everyone has felt it deeply. The driver in the taxicab, the waiter at the table, the businessmen in the conference room, all alike showed how profoundly this has hurt and amazed and disturbed them all. It was like when Abraham Lincoln was shot there almost exactly 100 years ago. It is natural that comparisons are made since Lincoln will for all time be remembered as the champion of freedom and today men associate Kennedy’s name with his fearless stand for civil rights and human freedom. Already men begin to measure the stature of a man as the President who first and best embodied the concept of America as a young man thrust into world leadership. It is true to say that not only has he been the greatest presidential champion of freedom in America since Lincoln lived but also since he had begun to give America a new dimension to American political life in two vital and important ways. He was consciously shaping the American mind to understand and accept her place in the modern world and as one of the two great nations in world leadership today. And he had begun to make the young people of America aware of the importance of political life and right judgment in political images and willing to contribute to their country even at the cost of personal sacrifice. I had the privilege of meeting him and I know that he was deeply interested in the West Indies and in Jamaica. Indeed, I was astonished at his quick grasp of our problems. We have lost a good friend.

Of particular note is coverage in the Daily Gleaner of Fidel Castro’s comments on the assassination. This story also ran on the wire, so it is likely that the U.S. also reported on the story, but Jamaicans likely had additional interest due to the geographical proximity and cultural importance of Cuba to Jamaica. Of course there are also links between Cuba and ska, and Castro and ska, but perhaps another day for that conversation. Here is a section of the in the November 25, 1963 issue of the Daily Gleaner  with the headline “Kennedy Carried World to Brink of War—Castro:”

The Cuban Prime Minister told his people by radio and television that despite Kennedy’s “hostile . . . policies toward us” the news of his assassination is “grave and bad.” “People feel repugnance to such a slaying because we should not consider this method a correct form of battle,” he said.

Dozens of  articles also appeared about local community groups expressing their condolences and their responses to the event, such as tributes and closures. Correspondents from towns across the country wrote their official statements of mourning and visits of town officials to Kingston were postponed due to the death. Certainly the events in the U.S. have always had an impact on American culture in a number of ways—even the death of John F. Kennedy. From destruction comes creation, and in the case of the JFK assassination, the musicians contributed to the conversation with their compositions.

Enjoy a listen–Don Drummond’s JFK Memories, one of my personal favorites.

Prince Buster the Boxer

prince buster boxing

After hearing from some readers of last week’s post that they would like to see some history on Prince Buster and his foray into boxing, I decided to delve into the archives and see what I could find. And it’s pretty interesting, I think you’ll agree.

First, we know that Prince Buster is a man of flash and prowess, so why not start with a little flair. From the Daily Gleaner, October 5, 1964:

Monograms on the dressing gowns worn by boxers are always a source of interest and sometimes amusement. Saturday night, Prince Buster’s glowing scarlet and white robe had inscribed on the back in bold letters of black “Prince Mohammed the Great,” the inscription on Joe Brown’s robe read “Joltin Joe,” Bunny Grant’s read “Bunny Grant — The Whip;” and Vincent Ramsay had to addition to his name the spiritual acknowledgement “In God I Trust.”

Despite the fact that his first fight ended on a “sour note,” Prince Buster had quite a lot of fun before, during and after the bout. Amidst a thunderous ovation he made a grand entry, followed by an entourage of about 20 supporters. His entry into the ring was dramatic and he did quite a bit of shadow-boxing a la Cassius Clay his “Big brother,” before resting briefly on the not too regal stool provided for him. His antics during the fight again drew laughter and applause and at the end he spent about half a minute in the centre of the ring, arms high over ha head and gazing intently at the sky.

Prince Buster, born Cecil Bustamante Campbell, grew up on Orange Street in a rough neighborhood in Kingston and only ended up in the music industry after literally fighting his way in. He received nickname “Buster” after his middle name Bustamante, but “Prince” was the nickname he received while boxing. He learned the skill as a teenager from Jamaican boxing greats Kid Chocolate and Speedy Baker. Prince Buster told me in a never-before-published interview from July 14, 1997 that he wanted to be a boxer initially. “I was in a dance troupe and would sing solo. I used to have problems going to school in the day because I stayed up so late at night. I paid less attention to singing and was more into boxing and wanted to be in fights but really there was no money in boxing. You’d get punched up and then there was no money. So I leave that and go back to singing and started recording. From day one, I started for me.”

Prince Buster’s first fight was on October 3, 1964. Daily Gleaner sportswriter L.D. Roberts wrote in anticipation of the debut, “Prince Buster is to make his ring debut in four rounder and this in itself should be a treat. But if the Prince forgets he is in the ring and starts to do the ska instead of throwing leather he may get his block knocked off.”

The connection between Prince Buster and Cassius Clay, who by this time was known as Muhammad Ali (Clay changed his name on February 26, 1964), is evident in the comparisons between the two fighters and likely because Prince Buster had begun a relationship with Muhammad Ali and due to his influence converted to Islam himself. Prince Buster changed his name Yusef Muhammad Ali although he still went by the stage name Prince Buster. The two fighters met during a trip to London where Prince Buster was transformed by Ali’s faith in the Nation of Islam. During Prince Buster’s trip to the 1964 World’s Fair with Bryon Lee & the Dragonaires, Ronnie Nasrala, and entourage, Prince Buster took Jimmy Cliff and his friends to a nightclub in Harlem to meet his comrade Muhammad Ali. Prince Buster had also been with Muhammad Ali in Miami when Ali invited him to attend a Nation of Islam talk at Mosque 29. So the two were connected by a friendship and faith.

prince buster boxing with ali

The Daily Gleaner on September 19, 1964 discusses Prince Buster’s planned debut in the boxing ring:

With all the flair and the gimmicks of deposed world heavyweight king Cassius Clay, Prince Buster bows into the ring with a song on his lips on Lucien Chen’s October 3rd promotion. The promotion is with the cooperation of David A. Lindo Ltd.

The ska singing sensation, more popular in the areas of ‘Wash Wash,’ claims intimate association with his ‘big brother’ Clay. No opponent he says, will last four. He fights in the first-round opening bout on the October 3 promotion. Like Clay, the Mighty Prince Buster claims to be Black Muslim. He has dubbed himself The Mighty Prince Buster Mohammed I in keeping with the Mohammed All, the name assumed by Cassius Clay after his seventh round TKO victory over Sonny Liston for the world heavyweight title. Buster returned to the Island recently from a tour of the USA, where he had ‘the advantage ‘ of meeting and hobnobbing with some of the biggest names in boxing in the country, among them, Sonny Liston. “Going from gym to gym in the USA, I decided to become a professional boxer.” Mohammad I said after his return. He is currently undergoing training at the Liberty Hall gym. And like Clay, Jamaica’s newest professional has this to say in verse.

                I Mighty Prince Buster, Mohammed the first,

Predict my first fight will end in the first

When the gong sounds for the first round,

My opponent will already be on the ground,

I have no time for fooling around,

There must be better herring around.

Prince Buster said that there was “no money” in boxing and certainly that was true—not because Prince Buster didn’t win, and not because it wasn’t offered, but because he didn’t receive the money because there was suspicion the fight was not fair. The Daily Gleaner on October 5, 1964 tells of that first fight against Gene Coy in an article entitled “Prince Buster’s purse withheld.”  The article states, “The Jamaica Boxing Board of Control announced Saturday night after the Prince Buster-Gene Coy scheduled tour found at the National Stadium, that the purses of both boxers would be withheld and an investigation made on Wednesday. Ska singing Prince Buster recently turned boxer was making his fight debut, so too was Coy. After a light flurry to the midsection in the first round, Coy hit the canvas and was counted out, as Buster had predicted in a poem. The 15,000 strong crowd that had cheered him into the ring five minutes earlier, booed as Coy lay on the canvas.”

But Prince Buster did get his money after all amid the spectacle.  The Daily Gleaner on November 5, 1964, over a month after the bout, states:

The Jamaica Boxing Board of Control, yesterday announced that ska-singing lightweight, professional boxer Prince Buster and Gene Coy whom he floored in the first round on October 3, will receive their purses. The Board had withheld the purses of both boxers after a questionable performance in the four-round bout promoted by Lucien Chen at the National Stadium. Principals of the five fight card were Bunny Grant vs. Kid Bassey for the Jamaica Welterweight title and Percy Hayles vs. former world lightweight title holder Joe Brown.

Boxing Board Secretary George Abrahams said through a release after a meeting of the committee set up to investigate the fight. “It was decided that in consideration of all the circumstances the purses of both boxers, which was previously withheld, should be paid and that severe reprimand be issued to Coy’s trainer.”

Coy, who trained at Liberty Hall, maintained that he was sick and that his trainer said he should fight.

Coy was floored by a light flurry to the mid-section seconds from the end of the first round as Buster had predicted in his poem.

Prince Buster has recently returned from Miami where he watched world heavy-weight boxing champion Cassius Clay’s early training for his title defense with former champion Charles (Sonny) Liston in Boston, Massachusetts on November 10. Buster says that he is going to Boston to be in Clay’s corner for his return bout with Liston.

Although Prince Buster continued for a short time to help support other boxers by appearing at their bouts, such as his mentor Muhammad Ali, Bunny Grant, and Grady Ponder, whom he helped convert to Islam, the October 3, 1964 boxing match against Coy was the only professional fight that Prince Buster ever fought.

Ska, Rocksteady, and Boxing?

Bunny_grant

Bunny Grant

Alton Ellis’s classic 1965 song Dance Crasher features the following lyrics in a warning to rude boys to mash up sound system dances:Don’t break it up, please don’t make a fuss, go to a gym, get yourself in trim, be a prize fighter, instead of a dance crasher, let me tell you, be a gentleman, you could be a champion, like Mr. Bunny Grant.”. Ever wonder who Bunny Grant was and why boxing was such a big deal in this Alton Ellis song? I mean, sure we know about dance crashers and rude boys, but boxers?

Ever wonder who Bunny Grant was? Reggae Archives tells us that “Leslie “Bunny” Grant was a Jamaican light-welterweight boxing champion active during the early 1960s. Whilst there have been many Jamaican-born boxers on the international scene before and since, most fought under the flag of an adopted country such as USA, Canada or Great Britain. Grant was revered in Jamaica largely because he fought as a Jamaican.”

The Jamaica Gleaner, on November 7, 1999, in a series of the 20 Greatest Jamaican athletes of the Century, profiled Bunny Grant. Here is the feature:

BUNNY GRANT has the distinction of being the first Jamaican boxer to fight for a world title.

He fought the American champion Eddie Perkins for the world junior welterweight boxing title at the National Stadium on April 18, 1964, but lost in a unanimous points decision.

In 1962, Grant held as many as four titles simultaneously – the Latin American junior welterweight title, the British Empire lightweight title (renamed the Commonwealth title) and the Jamaica lightweight and welterweight titles.

On August 5, 1962 – on the eve of our Independence from Britain – Grant did Jamaica proud by winning the Commonwealth lightweight title, defeating the Englishman Dave Charnley inside the newly-built National Stadium. It was a fitting Independence gift.

By virtue of his outstanding exploits in the ring that year, Grant at age 22 was named Jamaica’s first ‘Sportsman of the Year’ by the Machado Foundation.

During his heyday, the boxer whose real name is George Leslie Grant, was not only a genuine crowd puller but a role model to young aspiring sportsmen as well. He was immensely popular.

Blessed with a fast pair of hands, good footwork and a punishing left jab, the man who fought eight world champions in the lightweight and welterweight divisions in a career spanning 15 years, ended with a professional ring record of 102 fights, 86 wins, 10 losses and six draws.

After his memorable victory against Charnley, Grant defeated the world number three lightweight Doug Vaillant of Cuba in his next fight at the National Stadium months later, out jabbing and out punching his opponent for his biggest win.

Other notable bouts were his loss to the highly ranked Carlos Hernandez of Venezuela in 1963, which for a time set back his bid for a crack at the world title, and his victory over fellow Jamaican Percy Hayles for the local welterweight title in the early 70s, this inside the National Arena.

Significantly, Ring Magazine, in its ranking for February 1965, named Grant as the number one contender for Carlos Ortiz’s world title. Between 1963 and 1968, he was consistently ranked in the top 10 in the junior welterweight division.

For his outstanding contribution to boxing, Bunny Grant was inducted to Jamaica’s Sports Hall of Fame on October 21.

Okay, okay, so enough about Bunny Grant, still what’s the big deal with boxing? Well boxing was hugely popular in Jamaica and still is today. Boxers were admired for their strength, skill, and sport and so they were idolized by Alton Ellis and others. Sister Ignatius taught her boys at the Alpha Boys School the sport of boxing by sharing films of the greats, instructing the technique as the boys watched. Local theaters like the Ritz screened fight films, like Rocky Marciano vs. Don Cockell. The Jamaica Boxing Board of Control (JBBC) was established as early at 1929 by Jamaican national hero Norman Manley, one of the leaders responsible for negotiating Jamaican independence. Manley even served as president of the JBBC during its infancy.

Today, the outstanding Minneapolis band the Prizefighters have paid homage to this tradition and to Ellis by naming their band after this cultural affinity as they revive the sounds of 1960s Jamaican ska—definitely check them out at theprizefighters.net.

My interest in boxing and ska came as I researched Don Drummond since Anita Mahfood, also known as Margarita, was married to a boxer before she became involved romantically with Drummond. Margarita was married to boxer Rudolph Bent. They had two children together, Suzanne and Christopher. Rudolph Bent was known as the Dark Destroyer. He was born in Belize, which was then called British Honduras and he fought his first professional fight on July 13, 1952 against Jimmy Pollard in Belize City. Rudolph Bent left Belize for Jamaica in 1955 to continue his career and he met Margarita and they had their first child in 1959 getting married afterward and then having a second child two years later.

Perhaps Bent’s most famous moment in his boxing career came on October 20, 1965 when, at the age of 33, he fought against Boxing Hall of Famer Sugar Ray Robinson in Robinson’s final fight. Robinson, who was 45 years old at the time, won his 174th and final victory in a third-round knockout of Rudolph Bent in Steubenville Ohio. Bent had just come off of a 13 fight losing streak when Robinson won. Robinson’s purse for the fight was $500. It was not Bent’s last fight, but his string of loses definitely signaled the end of his career.

You can read more about Bent, see photos of him, and hear about the abusive relationship he had with Margarita before she divorced him and moved in with Don Drummond while her kids were sent away to Belize. My book is available at skabook.com and here are a few recent reviews:

Heather, just letting you know that the Don Drummond book is the best book I have ever read on the subject of Ska. It is so well researched and informative! I particularly liked reading about Graeme Goodall and The Caribs, the Australians who helped pioneer the genre. Keep up the good work, can’t wait to read your next book! cheers, Steve Douglas, guitarist with The Resignators, www.theresignators.com

Well researched. By reg69 on October 22, 2013 For the avid or casual reader on the subject of early Jamaican music this is a must read.Writer has come up trumps here ,cannot have been an easy task extracting information on D.Drummond in his native land. So thank you Heather for sticking your neck out , it must have been a daunting task. On behalf of reggae fans worldwide , thank you.

This man is back !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! By Darren Powell on November 2, 2013 Meticulously researched & beautifully put together – a wealth of new information on a musical giant & a revelation in terms of Margarita Mafood.

Through dozens of interviews Heather Augustyn’s book paints a vivid and at times traumatic picture. She never shrinks from dealing with the cycles of violent abuse and the stigma of mental illness. Her book demands that we learn from the lessons of the past so that we might react differently in the future. Let’s face it, Don Drummond was not alone. He joins a host of stellar artists and musicians who have dealt with depression and psychosis, some of whom were able to deal with it, others who weren’t. In the end ‘Don Drummond: The Genius and Tragedy of the World’s Greatest Trombonist’ leaves us no place to go but the music and that my friends takes us to those Far East melodies, those groundbreaking compositions… minor masterpieces… that allow his melancholy genius to shine. Roll on Don Cosmic… Ungu Malungu Man! –Paul Brad

Pick It Up, B-Boys! The Toasting/Hip-Hop Connection.

My good friend Michael Turner recently found and posted the above rare clip of King Stitt toasting on his Roots Knotty Roots page and I wanted to pass it along and write about it here. This particular clip interested me because I have been researching the link between toasting and early hip hop and wanted to take a few minutes to elaborate and solicit your thoughts.

As Buster Brakus notes in this clip, the backing band is Byron Lee & the Dragonaires. He notices Carl Brady on percussion who is a life-time member of Byron Lee & the Dragonaires and possibly Marvin Brooks on tambourine. Brakus says that Clancy Eccles told him that Eccles and King Stitt performed a lot with Byron’s band.

What interests me most is toasting as an art form. Count Machuki first began toasting for Tom the Great Sebastian and then came to work for Coxsone since he was skilled at attracting a crowd and keeping the crowd. Machuki says that he was so desired by the crowds that they were disappointed at the recorded version of the live performance, solidifying the concept that ska is very much a live experience. In The Rough Guide to Reggae, authors Steve Barrow and Peter Dalton quote Count Machuki. “There would be times when the records playing would, in my estimation, sound weak, so I’d put in some peps: chick-a-took, chick-a-took, chick-a-took. That created a sensation! So there were times when people went to the record shop and bought those records, took them home, and then brought them back, and say, ‘I want to hear the sound I hear at the dancehall last night!’ They didn’t realize that was Machuki’s injection in the dancehall!”

“Toasting was developed by the sound-system operators,” writes Mohair Slim. “To emphasis the music’s rhythm, the DJs chanted staccato noises over the top of the instrumental tracks that were the staple of the early dancehall. A common technique was the rapid-fire repetition of words, like “ska-ska-ska” or “get-up-get-up-get-up” also employed were locomotive-noises (“ch-ch, ch-ch, ch-ch”), hiccups (“he-da, he-da, he-da”) and grunts. Prince Buster, Coxsone Dodd and Byron Lee all utilised toasting to accentuate the fervour of their records.” The clip above is evidence of Byron Lee using this art form. Classic Skatalites tunes like Rocket Ship and

Legendary historian and artist Clinton Hutton says the toasting had a deeper impact on the power of the sound system. “The mike gave the voice reach and agency. The deejay could talk to the fans in the dancehall as well as to the persons outside of the dancehall. He could advertise the next dance and venue that the sound system would be playing at. He could praise the sound system owner/operator and help to brand his name and enterprise in the minds of the people. The disc jockey could dedicate a song or songs to a specific person or group of persons. He could announce the names of persons going off to England or coming from prison. Yes, he could really ‘wake the town and tell the people,’ to use a line from Daddy U-Roy. He could cover the weaknesses in a selection with live jive, with toasting, with scatting, with bawl out.”

I would argue that toasting is the grandfather of hip hop. It is evident that those who either participated in or witnessed the activity of toasting in the 1950s and 1960s Kingston, at the sound system dances brought this cultural phenomenon to the shores of the United States where it then evolved into hip hop traditions. In the 1970s, hip hop began when a disc jockey by the stage name DJ Kool Herc began hosting block parties in the South Bronx. He, like the Jamaican predecessors, toasted over the music to encourage the attention of the participants. Hip hop toasting then evolved into adding musical flourishes to the music, utilizing two turntables to create percussive effects like scratching and looping, and it then evolved into rapping completely as a vocal, rather than a few words over the existing soundtrack, and vocal percussive effects, beatboxing. Hip hop culture spread to communities throughout New York and then the world in the 1980s. 

Scholar Joseph Heathcott notes the origins of hip hop culture in Jamaica. “Taking shape on the playgrounds and street corners of the South Bronx, hip-hop was from the first moment a popular cultural practice that stretched across borderlands, linking the local to the transnational. Not coincidentally, hop-hop erupted in the one American urban neighborhood with the highest concentration of Jamaican labor migrant families: the South Bronx. . . . Islanders imported with them to the South Bronx highly developed musical and electric performance cultures centered around the mobile sound system. If ska had filed to gain a purchase on the American music scene, and if reggae was only beginning to establish its credentials, it was the sound system and dance hall culture that ultimately made sense on transplanted soil. Where Jamaican genres of music only penetrated American markets obliquely, Jamaican performance practices provide enteral to the creation of hip-hop.”

Is it possible that DJ Kool Herc knew of these Jamaican toasting methods? Most definitely. DJ Kool Herc, whose real name is Clive Campbell, was born in 1955 in Kingston, Jamaica where he lived until he was 12 years old, during the height of the sound system era. He came to the Bronx in 1967. His first gig was DJing his sister’s birthday party and he did as he learned, filling the break sections of the song with toasting to keep the audiences going. This is not to say that DJ Kool Herc was merely imitating the originals, and indeed he was innovative by incorporating the turntables themselves in future gigs to create additional techniques that became separate from the ska genre and a part of the hip-hop genre, but credit is due the first toasters—Count Machuki, King Stitt, and Sir Lord Comic.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this connection. Please share your knowledge of vintage toasting and the hip hop link with me as I continue to research this fascinating musical evolution.

Ska Funeral Mash Up

Jamaica 231

This is the site of Don Drummond’s funeral on May 14, 1969, Madden’s Funeral Home. I visited there in 2011 while doing research and it is still in use today. The site is seemingly quiet here although it wasn’t so on the day of Drummond’s funeral. A few weeks ago I wrote about May Pen Cemetery and the chaos of the grounds, overrun by gangs aligned withe the JLP and PNC, and the reason’s why Drummond’s exact grave site cannot be located (which is discussed further and with great detail in my book), but today I wanted this blog to focus on the funeral and the controversy surrounding that event.

Madden’s Funeral Chapel is located in downtown Kingston on North Street, not far from Jubilee Hospital where Don Drummond was born. He was buried at 9:25 a.m. on May 18, 1969 in the May Pen Cemetery in grave number A346. He is listed in burial records as a Roman Catholic. Entombment was private, for only family. Musicians such as Sonny Bradshaw took up funds to pay for Drummond’s funeral since his mother was unable to afford the cost. Sister Ignatius paid for the burial. The burial included a few attendants other than just family. Present at the cemetery were “a few CID men from Denham Town and Central Station . . . in case of any incident,” according to the Daily Gleaner. This was done in order to keep a sense of decorum for the family in a time when emotions were still raw, and is likely one reason why the exact location of Drummond’s grave is still not known today.

Just four days earlier on May 14th, 1969, pandemonium broke out at Drummond’s funeral when drummer Hugh Malcolm moved past an enormous crowd of those paying their last respects to Drummond. He burst into the packed funeral home just as the officiating priest was about to administer the services. Reports that Malcolm tore up the death certificate are merely rumor or embellishment, unless it was a prop certificate, since the death certificate was not issued until August 22, 1969. But Malcolm did demand the service be stopped and that there should be no burial until the results of the post mortem were known.

Administrators today claim the record has been destroyed. But during the funeral, Malcolm demanded to see the post mortem because “a relative of Drummond said that the protestor declared that he had been informed that Drummond had not died from natural causes but that before his death he was beaten by four men in the institution,” according to an article in the Daily Gleaner. The service was then called off because the family did not want anyone to get hurt or for a riot to break out.

What do you think? Was Don Drummond murdered at Bellevue as Hugh Malcolm claimed? Did he commit suicide? Did he die from natural causes? Or did he die as a result of the rudimentary treatment and terrible conditions of Bellevue? I give my thoughts in my book, Don Drummond: The Genius and Tragedy of the World’s Greatest Trombonist, but the answer is not certain and I would love to hear your thoughts.