Thu | Jun 4, 2020

Reggae music pioneer dies from coronavirus

Published:Tuesday | March 31, 2020 | 12:00 AMYasmine Peru/Senior Gleaner Writer
Delroy Washington
Cecil Reuben

The death of British reggae pioneer Delroy Washington, who passed away last Friday, is as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. His friend, Winston Francis, another veteran reggae singer who is also based in the United Kingdom, confirmed this to The Gleaner on Monday. He said that Washington died at the St Mary’s Hospital in London after a brief illness and that the cause of death was indeed the dreaded COVID-19.

Francis revealed that Washington had attended the repast for a member of the reggae community nearly three weeks prior and that six persons who attended that repast have since contracted the coronavirus. “It was a very big turnout, about 200 persons. I was there with my wife, my son, and his daughter. I didn’t see Delroy, but my wife did, and they spoke. Shortly after, Delroy, who was diabetic, started feeling sick and had to be hospitalised,” he shared.

The entertainer explained that when Washington was admitted, none of his friends knew because he wasn’t answering his cell phone. “We all became concerned,, and I called the police and asked them to go around his house. They did, and then called back to ask if we had checked the hospitals. At that point, my wife started calling around until we found him. Delroy told us he had been taken to hospital by ambulance, and his phone was dead, so he had asked for it to be charged, but it was never returned. My wife called the hospital and asked them to look for it and it was returned to him.”

Francis, who reiterated his shock at his colleague’s sudden death, said he and another friend were going to visit Washington last Thursday with some fruits as he had requested earlier that week. The friend, however, got a call from the doctor saying that Washington was in intensive care.

“The doctor asked him if he was the person getting the fruits for Delroy and then told him not to bother because Delroy had full-blown coronavirus and was in isolation. Then the next call he got was that Delroy had passed,” was his lament.

He pointed out that Washington was a vegetarian who ate a lot of fish and generally took excellent care of himself. “Delroy had a black belt in karate and he was a keep-fit fanatic. I am still in shock that such a fit, strong guy could be taken out so easily. Delroy was such a genuine guy and a real gentleman. He will be greatly missed,” Francis said of the reggae pioneer and activist.


England-based Cecil Reuben, another good friend, also lamented Washington’s passing. “Delroy was a good yute. He was from Westmoreland and came to England in the early ‘60s. Him was always in the music business, sometimes as a session musician, and he also worked with Bob Marley, and they developed a great friendship. We used to hang out at Rasta House in South London, and it was Delroy who brought Bob there and introduced him to us,” Reuben, owner of the Hootananny Club in Brixton, told The Gleaner.

Reuben said he spoke to Washington about eight months ago, urging him to perform at his club. “Delroy wasn’t doing much in the way of performance. He was more into his organisation to help artistes – the Federation of Reggae Music – and also, he was instrumental in the Notting Hill Carnival. But I was trying to draw him out to do a show, but it was not to be,” he said.

Music industry consultant Maxine Stowe, who met Washington in England, remembers him as a Rastafari reggae activist who contributed his knowledge to heritage development and making Brent/Harlesden a diaspora reggae capital.

“The Jamaican diaspora of London and the UK is the most instrumental ingredient to the growth and development of Jamaican music globally. Delroy epitomises the how and why of this continuous history. As a creative artiste-musician and Rastafari activist, I was introduced to him being alongside Sugar Minott as he built his international career in London in the early ‘80s. Harlesden, being his home base and that of Jet Star Records, he touched all the markers of reggae music development, including working with the mainstream companies, The Wailers, and then Bob Marley’s solo career,” she told The Gleaner.

Delroy Washington’s biography states that he was the first UK reggae artiste to be signed to major record companies such as CBS, Island, and Virgin. Discovered by reggae legend Bob Marley, he was signed to Johnny Nash’s JAD Cayman Music along with Marley. As an activist, he helped create and develop major community initiatives in the UK such as 12 Tribes of Israel, HPCC Bridge Park, and is also the original creator of the UK’s One Love Festival.