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Desmond Dekker

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Desmond Dekker’s “Israelites” (1969) was the first reggae song to achieve number one on the British pop charts.  Dekker's success paved the way to the mainstream for Jimmy Cliff and Bob Marley and the Wailers.


Desmond Dekker (16 July 1941 – 25 May 2006) was a Jamaican ska, rocksteady and reggae singer-songwriter and musician. Together with his backing group the Aces (consisting of Wilson James and Easton Barrington Howard), he had one of the earliest international reggae hits with "Israelites" (1969). Other hits include "007 (Shanty Town)" (1967), "It Mek" (1969) and "You Can Get It If You Really Want" (1970).


Dekker spent his formative years in Kingston. From a young age he regularly attended the local church with his grandmother and aunt. This early religious upbringing, as well as Dekker's enjoyment of singing hymns, led to a lifelong religious commitment. Following his mother's death, he moved to the parish of St. Mary and later to St. Thomas. While at St. Thomas, Dekker embarked on an apprenticeship as a tailor before returning to Kingston, where he became a welder. His workplace singing had drawn the attention of his co-workers, who encouraged him to pursue a career in music.



In 1961 he auditioned for Coxsone Dodd (Studio One) and Duke Reid (Treasure Isle), though neither audition was successful. The unsigned vocalist then auditioned for Leslie Kong's Beverley's record label and was awarded his first recording contract. 

Despite achieving a record deal, it was two years before Dekker saw his first record released. Meanwhile, Dekker spotted the talent of Bob Marley, a fellow welder, and brought the youth to Kong's attention. In 1962 "Judge Not" and "One Cup Of Coffee" became the first recorded efforts of Marley, who retained gratitude, respect and admiration for Dekker for the rest of his life.

Eventually in 1963 Kong chose "Honour Your Mother and Father" (written by Dekker and the song that Dekker had sung in his Kong audition two years earlier), which became a Jamaican hit and established Dekker's musical career. This was followed by the release of the tracks "Sinners Come Home" and "Labour for Learning". It was during this period that Desmond Dacres adopted the stage-name of Desmond Dekker. His fourth hit, "King of Ska" (backing vocals by The Cherrypies, also known as the Maytals), made him into one of the island's biggest stars. Dekker then recruited, Clive, Barry, Carl and Patrick as his permanent backing vocalists to perform with him under the name Desmond Dekker and the Aces.

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Hugh Gentles (right) presents a WIRL Award for producer of best-selling 45 single to Leslie Kong (second left) in 1971. Looking on are Mrs Collen Kong (left) and Clifton (Bunny) Rae.

Kong was on the verge of international stardom, through his involvement with the then-upcoming movie The Harder They Come, when he was unceremoniously cut down by a heart attack, aged 38, in August 1971.


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Since 1966, the Jamaica Festival Song Competition has been cemented in the landscape of Jamaican Music Culture and today is the longest running original song contest in the island. The Competition has become a showground for aspiring artistes, songwriters and producers to showcase their talents and aims to identify a new and original song that is reflective of the spirit of the Jamaican people.
The Song provides a musical back drop for the annual celebration of Jamaica’s Emancipation and Independence and should stir a feeling of celebration and should be about Jamaica or Jamaican Culture. The rhythm must be Jamaican and the sound should generate mass appeal.

Toots and the Maytals, Eric Donaldson, Desmond Dekker, Roy Rayon and Stanley Beckford are some of the past winners, who have gone on to make their mark globally.  Winners in the early years:


1966 – The Maytals with “Bam Bam”

1967 – The Jamaicans with “Ba Ba Boom”

1968 – Desmond Dekker & The Aces with “Music Like Dirt”

1969 – The Maytals with “Sweet and Dandy”

1970 – Hopeton Lewis with “Boom Shaka Laka”

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Desmond Dekker and the Aces singing their Festival song entry 'Intensified Festival' at a rum punch party held at Vale Royal, St Andrew, in 1969.

In 1967, Desmond Dekker and the Aces came second in the Jamaica Festival Song Competition with "Unity". The following year, they won the contest with "Intensified '68 (Music Like Dirt)"


Music Like Dirt - Intensified 68


"Israelites" is a song written by Desmond Dekker and Leslie Kong that became a hit for Dekker's group, Desmond Dekker & the Aces, reaching the top of the charts in numerous countries in 1969. Sung in Jamaican Patois, some of the song's lyrics were not readily understood by many British and American listeners at the time of its release. Despite this, the single was the first UK reggae #1 and among the first to reach the US top ten (peaking at #9). It combined the Rastafarian religion with rude boy concerns, to make what has been described by Allmusic as a "timeless masterpiece that knew no boundaries".

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Desmond Dekker (center) with the Aces: James Samuels (left) and Easton Howard (right)

Originally issued in Jamaica as "Poor Me Israelites", it remains the best known Jamaican reggae hit to reach the United States Hot 100's top 10, and was written almost two years after Dekker first made his mark with the rude boy song "007 (Shanty Town)". Dekker composed the song after overhearing an argument: "I was walking in the park, eating popcorn. I heard a couple arguing about money. She was saying she needs money and he was saying the work he was doing was not giving him enough. I related to those things and began to sing a little song: 'You get up in the morning and you're slaving for bread.' By the time I got home, it was complete." 



In 1969 the Trojan label released This Is Desmond Dekkar, a virtual nonstop chart-busting party, drawn from three Beverley’s sets.  It included the massive hit '007'.

For more info visit TROJAN RECORDS



Dekker signed to Stiff Records and recorded the albums Black and Dekker (1980) and Compass Point (1981) which failed to capitalise on his reputation as the godfather of the ska revival. Worse, in 1984, Dekker, whose royalties and finances had been badly handled by various managers throughout his career, was declared bankrupt. He soldiered on with the help of his bass-playing manager Delroy Williams and took advantage of the ska-punk wave of the late Eighties and early Nineties.

Black And Dekker

Compass Point


1972 The Harder They Come

- 007 (Shanty Town)

2006 Idiocracy

- Baby Come Back

2008 Forgetting Sarah Marshall
- Intensified

2008 Fool’s Gold
- You Can Get It If You Really Want


007 (Official Music Video)

Rude Boy Train

Israelites (Live 1990)

Please Don't Bend

Israelites (Reggae at the BBC))

Interview (2004)


Desmond Dekker ( King of Ska) - Full length interview from 2002


Museum of Croydon - 25 May 2021 Today we're celebrating the life of ska and rocksteady icon, Desmond Dekker (16 Jul 1941-25 May 2006) The Jamaican born singer-songwriter and musician, and Thornton Heath resident, had the first reggae UK No.1 in 1969 with his song 'Israelites'

Desmond Adolphus Dacres (Desmond Dekker), singer and songwriter: born Kingston, Jamaica 16 July 1941; married (one son, one daughter); died of a heart attack on 25 May 2006, at his home in Thornton Heath in the London Borough of Croydon, England, aged 64 and was buried at Streatham Park Cemetery. He was preparing to headline The World Music Festival in Prague. Dekker was divorced and was survived by his son and daughter.



  • Pierre Perrone - Obituary - Desmond Dekker - Ska and reggae pioneer.... - Independent 27 May 2006 - READ MORE

  • Roy Black - Leslie Kong's Beverly's plays foundation music role - The Gleaner 9 February 2014 READ MORE

  • Jamaica Festival Song Competition - Jamaica Cultural Development Commission READ MORE

  • royal_2008@yahoo.com1 - The History of the Festival Song - The Gleaner 3 August 2014 READ MORE


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