Desmond Dekker has had a long career and a number of hits on record charts in other countries, but it is his sole top ten hit in the United States that distinguishes him to the record-buying public there.
He was born Desmond Dacres in Kingston, Jamaica in 1941 (some sources say 1942 or 1943). As a young man Desmond worked in a Jamaican welding shop and his singing while working there served notice that the young man had quite a voice. In 1961 he auditioned for several record labels, most notably Leslie Kong's Beverley's label. Jamaican recording star Derrick Morgan took Desmond under his wing at Beverley's. By 1963 Dacres had his first hit in Jamaica, Honour Your Mother And Father.
He formed his own group the Aces, which at times included Wilson James and various siblings from the Howard family, including Barry, Carl, Clive, and Patrick. After changing his professional name to Dekker, in 1967 he and the group recorded 007 (Shanty Town), which made it to #14 on the UK chart and made Desmond Dekker a very popular performer in England. From 1967 to 1970 the group had a run of hits in England that included Rudie Got Soul, Rude Boy Train, Sabotage, and later It Mek (a song written by Dekker about his younger sister) and You Can Get It If You Really Want. Dekker had been orphaned as a teen and Beverley's label owner Kong formed a bond with him, providing direction for the young singer's career as well as his life. Dekker performed a number of times in England and was enormously popular there, sometimes getting mobbed by his fanatic followers wherever he went.
In the midst of this string of success Dekker achieved a goal which had eluded many Jamaican singers who had come before him -- a solid hit in the United States market. A reggae song in the ska style titled Israelites was a solid top ten record in the US and went to #1 in the UK for Desmond Dekker and the Aces in 1969. Writing credits for the song went to Desmond Dacres and Leslie Kong. Get up in the morning, slaving for bread, sir, so that every mouth can be fed ... The infectious beat served notice that reggae music coming out of Jamaica had arrived. In the years to come reggae songs by other performers such as Johnny Nash and Bob Marley would capitalize on the opening that had been created by Desmond Dekker.
In 1971 Dekker suffered a severe blow when his friend and mentor Leslie Kong sustained a heart attack and died. The string of hits dwindled to almost nothing for a time, but the group did manage another big hit in England in 1975 with Sing A Little Song, a year that also saw Israelites return to the UK top ten.
Desmond Dekker continued to perform and record into the early 21st century. A number of albums were issued, some of them recorded during his years at Beverley's. On May 25, 2006, Dekker collapsed at his home in Surrey, England, suffering a fatal heart attack.
Dekker had a long and prolific career although in the United States he is remembered by many as a one-shot artist. And although it is Bob Marley who is regarded as the biggest recording star to come out of Jamaica, it is Desmond Dekker who arrived before Marley to crack the US market.
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