Music

Merritone cruise to set sail in February

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

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WINSTON “Merritone” Blake never hid his love for Cuba, its long-time President Fidel Castro, or the country's diverse culture. He visited there regularly.

Next February, three years after his death, will be the inaugural Dream Cruise: Merritone Memories, a five-day cruise aboard the Majesty of The Seas liner. It is scheduled to make stops in the Cuban capital Havana, Fort Lauderdale and Key West in Florida.

The cruise is the brainchild of Paul Johnson, a Fort Lauderdale-based events promoter who knew Blake and his family for many years. It is endorsed by Blake's younger brother, Monte, who will be involved.

“I received a call from Paul to get my views on doing a Merritone-Cuba dream cruise. Immediately, I indicated to him that this was a brilliant idea and I would be on board, as long as it met the Merritone criteria,” Blake told the Jamaica Observer.

Johnson, who hosts the weekly Merritone Memories on WAVS 1107 AM in South Florida, said the cruise is a salute to the Blakes who have operated the Merritone sound system for 68 years. Winston's wife, singer Cynthia Schloss, will also be honoured; she died in 1999.

“Being involved with a Merritone project of this magnitude is very gratifying and humbling, to say the least, as I now got the chance to pay homage to the institution of Merritone,” said Johnson. “My musical mission has always been geared towards the preservation of vinyl records, and now the legacy and brand of Merritone and its music. I use my weekly radio show as the platform to effect this.”

The Dream Cruise sails from Fort Lauderdale to Key West on the evening of February 26, after a party celebrating the lives of Winston Blake and Cynthia Schloss. Its next stop is Key West the following day, then Havana.

While in the Cuban capital there will be tours of the city as well as a jam session involving Jamaican and Cuban musicians, followed by a Turntable/Waterfalls dance aboard the ship.

On March 1 the cruise leaves Havana. Soul Friday, a retro party, takes place aboard the ship that evening before its return to Fort Lauderdale the next day.

Monte Blake commented on his family's ties to Cuba, the country's historical impact on Jamaica and Jamaican music.

“Merritone was always fascinated with Cuba and Afro-Cuban music. Lots of Jamaicans migrated to Cuba to cut cane or reap bananas, and quite a few of our musicians were born there…Rita Marley, Laurel Aitken, Tommy McCook. My children's grandmother was born in Guantanamo, Cuba,” he said.

Winston Blake was still a student at Kingston College when he and his older brother Trevor assumed control of the Merritone sound system in 1956, the year their father, its founder, died. Younger brothers Tyrone and Monte eventually joined the fold, and the 'sound' thrived during the 1960s and 1970s with jam-packed parties at the Turntable Club, located in the Red Hills Road area of Kingston.

When the Turntable closed, they moved to Waterfalls in the Liguanea area of the Jamaica capital.

Blake died in February 2016 of complications from a stroke. He was 75.

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