Jackie Opel: Honorary Jamaican

Arts & Culture

Jackie Opel: Honorary Jamaican

Thursday, August 06, 2020

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AT the dawn of Jamaica's Independence from Great Britain in 1962, a number of artistes from the Eastern Caribbean flocked its shores to help celebrate the occasion. They included singer Lord Creator and guitarist Lynn Taitt from Trinidad and Tobago and singer Jackie Opel from Barbados.

Opel, one of ska's finest exponents, was a true Caribbean man. He made his mark as an artiste in his homeland, Trinidad and Tobago, and Jamaica.

His soul-drenched vocals, comparable to American singers Jackie Wilson and Wilson Pickett, won him countless fans throughout the region.

It was, however, in Jamaica that he made his biggest impact, working with The Skatalites and producers Clement Dodd and Byron Lee.

Lee produced Opel's version of Cry Me A River, a passionate ballad that remains the singer's signature. At Studio One, he made a number of ska classics, including Welcome You Back Home (with Doreen Shaffer), the risqu Push Wood, and Mill Man.

On Mill Man, he was backed by none other than Peter Tosh and Bob Marley of The Wailers. Another Wailer, Bunny, rates Opel highly.

“Opel was the greatest of them all... and the only act that dared to take the stage after a Jackie Opel performance in Jamaica was The Wailers,” Bunny Wailer told David Comissiong, writer of the article ' Jackie Opel: Forgotten Hero of Jamaica and Barbados'.

Jackie Opel, whose real name was Dalton Sinclair Bishop, was not only a vocal innovator. He created the spouge, a blend of Caribbean sounds he hoped to make an international brand. That never materialised.

Opel died in car crash in Barbados on March 9 1970. He was 32.

His legacy has gained gradual recognition from his countrymen. The Barbados Government commissioned the Jackie Opel Auditorium in 1998, and his music has been introduced to a new generation through numerous acknowledgements by artistes like soca singer Edward Yearwood, who saluted Opel at the Sir Arthur Lewis Distinguished Lecture in 2019 by performing Cry Me A River and You're No Good.

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