Alpha Boys’ School: Cradle of Jamaican Music by Heather Augustyn and Adam Reeves is now available!

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After three years of intensive research, visits to Alpha, writing, rewriting, editing, layout and design, and countless Skype conversations, Alpha Boys’ School: Cradle of Jamaican Music is finally here! Perhaps one day, Adam, my co-author, and I will actually meet! Yes, you got that right–we’ve never actually met! That’s modern technology for you. We were able to bring together work that we had already done–Adam on a documentary on Alpha some years back, and me with my work researching and interviewing and visiting Alpha, and yet we live across a big pond from one another. Adam hails from Brighton, U.K. and I am just outside of Chicago.

Adam and I had known each other, albeit virtually, for years so when he approached me to ask me about writing this book, I jumped at the chance. I had long envisioned writing this book, and had even asked officials at Alpha to work with me on this book, but they have limited resources, limited time, and much bigger missions, like the boys themselves! Thankfully Adam came along with a similar vision and we began planning this book at the end of 2013. We started writing the following year.

Adam had worked on a documentary on Alpha musicians many years ago. In fact, he traveled to Alpha in Kingston with a film crew and that film is now in the hands of two capable directors and will hopefully see the light of day soon, but as anyone in film will tell you, funding is always an obstacle. Adam is still involved, but tangentially. So he had access to the audio of the interviews he conducted during this time, which included quite a few Alpha Boys in the U.K. who came for a reunion concert in 2007.

I had done a number of interviews of Alpha Boys over the course of my work and so I utilized those, and both Adam and I conducted a whole batch of new interviews. Needless to say, a number of Alpha Boys have died and so for those we were able to utilize newspaper and magazine archives, genealogy archives, and interviews with family members. For all of these interviews, Adam and I are most grateful.

I want to also mention that there is a chapter written by guest author Roberto Moore. He penned a spectacular chapter on Sammy Ismay which includes exclusive photos and even notations of Sammy’s musical scores! We are tremendously thankful to Roberto who is an expert in early Jamaican music and a hell of a writer and researcher.

The cover is by the incredibly talented Jean-Christophe Molinéris who painted the beautiful cover of my Don Drummond: The Genius and Tragedy of the World’s Greatest Trombonist. He lives in Paris and we have also never met! One day. The cover design was done by Chris “Sick Moore.

David “Ram Jam” Rodigan wrote the foreword for the book, and there are reviews from a number of notable people in the book, which I have posted below. Thanks to these people for their time and thoughts.

Adam and I hope that this book will both enhance the listening pleasure of fans, bring new ears to this music, and preserve the history of these important musicians for generations to come.

Who is in this book? Well here’s the list of the chapters in this 400-page comprehensive book, which includes a large section on the history of the band and the bandmasters, a suggested listening section, and hundreds of photos, many from private family collections:

  • Sister Mary Ignatius Davies
  • Leslie Thompson
  • Bertie King
  • Sonny Grey
  • Dudley Farrier
  • Tommy McCook
  • Wilton “Bogey” Gaynair
  • Ferdinand “Bobby” Gaynair
  • Joe Harriott
  • Vernon “Von Mullo” Möller
  • Harold “Little G” McNair
  • Alphonso “Dizzy” Reece
  • The Skatalites
  • “Deadly” Headley Bennett
  • Edward “Tan Tan” Thornton
  • Bobby Ellis
  • Don Drummond
  • Emmanuel “Rico” Rodriguez
  • Lester Sterling
  • Karl “Cannonball” Bryan
  • Raymond Harper
  • Samuel “Sammy” Ismay
  • Johnny “Dizzy” Moore
  • Owen Gray
  • Winston “Sparrow” Martin
  • Kenneth “Mutt” Davy
  • Ron Wilson
  • Leslie Samuels
  • Joseph “Jo Jo” Bennett
  • Glen DaCosta
  • Cedric “IM” Brooks
  • David Madden
  • Tony Gregory
  • Johnny Osbourne
  • “Floyd” Lloyd Seivright
  • Uriah Johnson
  • Vincent Gordon “Don Drummond Jr.”
  • Jackie Willacy
  • Leroy “Horsemouth” Wallace
  • Albert “Apple Gabriel” Craig
  • Leroy Smart
  • Albert Malawi “Ilawi”
  • Vernal Kelly, AKA Charlie “Eskimo” Fox
  • Winston “Yellowman” Foster
  • Tony Greene
  • Osbert Maddo, AKA Papa Madoo
  • Tafane Buchsaecab
  • Nicholas Laraque
  • Denver Smith, AKA Feluke

Praise for Alpha Boys School: Cradle of Jamaican Music

The Alpha Boys’ School is at the roots of the explosion of Jamaican music which has circled the world, starting in the late fifties and still evolving right up to today. There are only three countries whose popular music is played all over the world—American music, British music, and Jamaican music. We owe maximum respect and thanks to the Alpha Boys’ School for its contribution to this fact. Chris Blackwell, founder of Island Records

The Alpha Boys School has produced more major musical talents than any other Jamaican institution, with legendary faculty led by pugnacious Sister Ignatius who had her own legendary sound system. The rambunctious history of the school is now revealed in its fullness by the tireless research of Heather Augustyn and Adam Reeves in a book filled with riotous and rootical ramblings in its hallowed halls. Roger Steffens, author of So Much Things to Say: The Oral History of Bob Marley

A significant history of popular Jamaican music has been documented by this book. It tells how monumental Alpha Boys’ School has been and is without parallel. The testimony of the Alpharians interviewed bears witness to this, as their revelations are insightful and deep. Coming through the narrative is the towering humanity of Sister Ignatius. Dermot Hussey, on-air host, SiriusXM Satellite Radio

The story of the Alpha Boys’ School is a tale of amazing love and care, the transformation of young lives, and the creation of the music for which Jamaica is known across the world. To understand the development, reach and power of Jamaican popular music is to understand the legacy of Alpha and its impact on Jamaica’s creative community. Alpha’s story must be told and retold. The Honourable Olivia Grange, CD, MP, Minister of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport, Government of Jamaica

Under the auspices of the benign taskmistress that was Sister Mary Ignatius Davies, Kingston’s Alpha Boys School was the seed-ground for much of Jamaica’s very greatest music. Among its alumni were Rico Rodriguez, Cedric Brooks, Vin Gordon, Eddie ‘Tan Tan’ Thornton, Joe Harriott, Harold McNair, and Leroy ‘Horsemouth’ Wallace. Alpha was an extraordinary educational establishment that literally saved the lives—and directed the first steps of their careers—for many of these artists. There was never a school like it. Chris Salewicz, acclaimed music writer

The progressive role played by Alpha in Jamaican music history can never be underestimated. From the days of Jamaican jazz stars like Bertie King, Joe Harriott, Dizzy Reece, Harold McNair and Wilton Gaynair, through the ska period of Don Drummond, Johnny Moore and Tommy McCook and into the period of roots reggae and dancehall with such prominent artists as Leroy Smart and Winston ‘Yellowman’ Foster, Alpha has provided stability, schooling and musical skills to generations of young men, who owed their success to this wonderful institution. Steve Barrow, former director of Blood and Fire Records and author of The Rough Guide to Reggae

“These are some of my boys,” said Sister Ignatius proudly, gesturing towards the portraits lining the walls. It was my first visit to Kingston’s famed Alpha School, and looking back at us were some of the most gifted and influential musicians that Jamaica has ever produced—all of whom learnt their craft at Alpha, and would make timeless contributions to ska, rocksteady and early reggae music. This invaluable book is the first such tribute to these pioneers, many of whom came from deprived backgrounds, and also those who taught and encouraged them. John Masouri, reggae journalist and author of Steppin’ Razor: The Life of Peter Tosh

It is impossible to overstate the importance of Alpha Boys School. By providing opportunity to young talents who wouldn’t normally have access to musical instruments and training, Alpha vastly enriched the culture within Jamaica, and by extension, the world. Simply put, without Alpha there wouldn’t be Jamaican music as we know it. Respect is due to Alpha for a gift that is as immense as it is immeasurable, and continues to this day. Beth Lesser, reggae photographer and author of Dancehall: The Rise of Jamaican Dancehall Culture

Alpha was formed in 1880 and from that time until now, every musical event that come out of Jamaica, Alpha Boys were involved with it, either playing in a band or production. Alpha is the backbone of Jamaican music today. Tony Greene, Alpha graduate, formerly with the Roots Radics Band and We the People Band

 

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