In February 2015, I was having breakfast with Tommy Cowan and he mentioned that he was the one who discovered Adina Edwards. I had just finished writing about this incredible woman, and so here was the person who took her from the street where she, a blind woman, played accordion and sang for a few coins and recorded her for his own company, The Talent Agency, after he branched off on his own from Dynamic Sounds in order to promote more local talent. He had Byron Lee’s blessing and support, both financial and emotional, and so Adina Edwards was able to experience some success. This past February, 2016, I was delighted to see Adina Edwards’ accordion on display at the Jamaica Music Museum at the Institute of Jamaica, a place that everyone must visit. Tommy Cowan told me, “I will never ever forget this is when Byron allowed me to record a woman named Adina Edwards. She was a blind woman who sang and played accordion for years at the corner of Barry and King Street and Byron said go for it. I said I always pass this woman and she’s there for years. I went down there and took this woman off the street side and took her to Dynamic Sounds because they had to give me the money to record her and she went straight to number one, ‘Don’t Forget to Remember.'” The accordion was donated to the collection by Tommy Cowan and here is a photo I took of the display below.
Below is an excerpt from my book, Songbirds: Pioneering Women in Jamaican Music, on the amazing Adina Edwards:
Adina Edwards was a blind performer who sang and accompanied herself. She was a self-taught accordion and keyboard player and always performed spiritual and gospel music, but in 1972 she recorded for Byron Lee. Her career starts in 1939 during a performance of the Salvation Army Institute for the Blind when she performed for a holiday program. She was a student at the institute and received such applause for her performance of “You Can Smile,” that she came out to do an encore. In July of 1946 she performed for a recital which was covered by the Daily Gleaner. The headline read “Blind Soprano to Give Song Recital.” The article stated, “On Wednesday evening July 31 a song recital unique in Jamaica’s musical history will be given when Miss Adina Edwards twenty-year-old blind soprano will give a recital of songs at Bartley’s Silver City Club. Possessed of a warm, colourful voice, Adina Edwards is certain to satisfy her audience with the songs she has chosen for this programme from Negro Spirituals to the light classical. The singer is being presented by Mr. Granville Campbell who will act as her accompanist for the evening while Mr. E. Roosevelt Hinchcliffe will contribute violin solos as fitting interludes to the programme.”
In 1949, Adina was presented with a cash donation of five pounds, 18 shillings, and three pence which was collected from the audience at Eric Coverley’s New Year Morning Show at the Ward Theatre in Kingston. Adina sang the song “Because” and was accompanied by Granville Campbell, followed by an encore of “Ah Sweet Mystery of Life.” She received “tumultuous applause from the audience,” according to the Daily Gleaner article, which prompted Coverley to comment, “This girl is not here because she is blind but because she can sing. I am asking you to help her.” Audience members placed money into hats while Adina performed “Red Hot Boogie Woogie” on the piano.
In 1959, Adina performed on the famous launch pad of talent, the Vere Johns Opportunity Hour, although she did not win. Joe Higgs and Roy Wilson sang “Manny Oh” to take first place, the Blues Busters took second place, and Adina placed third with her vocal rendition of “The Lord Got the Whole World In His Hands.”
Jamaica Gleaner columnist Roy Black wrote, “Little is known about Adina Edwards, except that she made a big impact with her gospel-tinged, 1972-Tommy Cowan-produced recording ‘Don’t Forget To Remember Me.’ She started her career as an inauspicious blind musical entertainer, who accepted collections for her performances on the streets until Byron Lee recorded that hit for her.” In early 1972, Adina’s accordion broke. She obtained a new one through the effort of local admirers.
In 1973, Dynamic Records recorded her album “Soul of Adina.” Musicians Boris Gardiner performed on bass, Peter Ashbourne on keyboard and violin, and Marjorie Whylie and Dawn Forrester sang back up. In December 1982, Adina performed in the Salute to Our Musical Heritage show at the National Arena with Ken Boothe, The Heptones, King Stitt, Bunny And Scully, U Roy, Derrick Harriott, the Gaylads, Lascelles Perkins, Dennis Brown, Delroy Wilson, Theophilus Beckford, Marcia Griffiths, Jackie Edwards, Lord Comic, Val Bennett, Stranger Cole, Toots and the Maytals, Tommy McCook, Derrick Morgan, and Pam Pam and Gloria Kid. In 1983 she performed in an all-island gospel festival and was a popular billing on the lineup. She was still performing for audiences in June 2000 and a Jamaica Gleaner article interviewed her before the gospel show. “Adina Edwards, an enduring gospel artiste, said most gospel songs earned the message of love and that men and women were not loving each other. Gospel singing is becoming like olden days when music was composed and most male performers nowadays cannot bother to reach perfection in their craft. ‘Women are into experimentation until they get it right. I am doing a song called ‘Real Real’ and I am applying all kinds of techniques to let it appeal to people,’ she said. Adina has now taken her singing ministry to a higher level where she is no longer singing for adults on the sidewalk, but participating in school devotions.” The following year she gave another gospel performance for a Mother’s Day celebration at which the Alpha Boys Band also performed. “I am very excited about the concert,” she stated in the Jamaica Gleaner article. “Already I am getting a lot of support. I will be performing all of my favourites, songs like ‘Keep The Love Light Burning,’ ‘When Waking Up This Morning,’ and ‘Just A Closer Walk With God.’ People always like to hear ‘Don’t Forget to Remember,’ which was produced by Tommy Cowan and promoted by Byron Lee. I will never sit back and allow my disability to defeat me,” she said.
In 2001, an article on female musicians who had adopted children, including Lady Saw, told the story of Adina Edwards who had also adopted a child. Adina Edwards has had her daughter, Amoie, when she was two days old. “At that time she was very sick and God help me to make her better. I do not call her an adoption and she does not call me anything but mother because she never knew any other. She is my sixth child. The most special thing about Amoie is that she a pretty girl and to think she loves this blind, ugly, old woman. It’s very touching. I love her. Whenever I needed any of my children they were always there. And when I called them to flog them, they would come and I wouldn’t bother,” she said. The article also stated that Adina had run a large nursery in the 1970s in Kencot, Kingston where she was responsible for over 48 children.
Though Adina Edwards passed away on April 4, 2008, her music lives on. Enjoy the incredible Adina Edwards with the links below:
After a wonderful conversation with Jumbo Shower of the Netherlands, I wanted to post our exchange here to further enhance this history: