Theophilus Beckford: Pioneer


Sunday, February 18, 2018

With February acknowledged as Reggae Month, the Jamaica Observer salutes some of the music's unsung heroes in this daily column.

THE name Theophilus Beckford may not reasonate with millennials. However, he is etched in the history as the man who recorded the first hit song out of Jamaica.

The single Easy Snappin' was released in 1959 and produced by the legendary Clement “Sir Coxsone” Dodd.

Beckford, affectionately called Snappin', sang and played piano on the song, which was built around his American boogie-woogie influences.

He died six months after he was honoured for his contribution to Jamaican music at Tribute To The Greats, an annual event produced by Kingsley “King Omar” Goodison.

It was just recognition for an unheralded pioneer.

“He was a true contributor to the music. Easy Snappin' was the first ska song,” said Goodison. “Snappin' always spoke about music from New Orleans. He loved music from that region.”

Though he had minor hits with the self-produced Good Morning Miss Clara and Tell Me Little Lady, which was produced by Dodd, Beckford never duplicated the success of Easy Snappin'.

The piano skills Beckford learned while growing up at Boys' Town never left him. His playing can be heard on three classic songs from the 1960s: Desmond Dekker's Honour Your Mother and Father, and Prince Buster's Blackhead Chiney Man and You Got To Go.

In the 1970s, Beckford was plucked from obscurity by guitarist/producer Earl Chinna Smith to play on Fade Away, done by singer Junior Byles. He also had a small role in the 1978 low-budget film, Rockers.

Sadly, Theophilus Beckford never earned substantially from his trailblazing song. In the early 1990s when a European denim company reportedly used Easy Snappin' for its ad campaign, lawyers for Beckford contacted them on the matter of royalties. A spokesman said they thought he had died.

He died a forgotten, broken man on February 19, 2001, at age 65.

Beckford's son, Lloyd, said he was at odds with Dodd over royalties at the time of his death.




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