Father Festival

By Brian Bonitto, Jamaica Observer,

Seven-Time Jamaica Festival Song winner Eric Donaldson will be recognised for his contribution to Jamaica’s music and the popularity of the more than half-century-old contest.

Olivia “Babsy” Grange — minister of gender, entertainment, culture and sport — confirmed the proposed tribute to the veteran singer, which is slated to take place during the Jamaica Festival Song Competition final scheduled for TVJ tomorrow at 8:00 pm.

“Yes. We’ll be recognising him on Sunday night,” she said. “He’ll be getting a plaque.”

Born in Bog Walk, St Catherine, Donaldson won the Jamaica Festival Song Competition a record seven times — Cherry Oh Baby (1971), Sweet Jamaica (1977), Land of My Birth (1978), Proud to Be Jamaica (1984), Big It Up (1993), Join de Line (1995) , and Peace and Love (1997).

Land of My Birth is regarded as Jamaica’s unofficial anthem, while Cherry Oh Baby still enjoys huge popularity.

The 49-year-old Cherry Oh Baby has been covered by The Rolling Stones for their 1976 album, Black and Blue, and the British reggae outfit UB40 on their album Labour of Love in 1983. The song’s rhythm has also remained popular with more than 30 cover versions recorded over the years, including an update by Donaldson himself.

Early last year, the singer received an Icon Award from the Jamaica Reggae Industry Association. He said while he was elated at the gesture, he feels his country has forgotten him.

“It feels very good to know that somebody remembers me. I’m in the business for a long time and I get a few awards years ago, but this is definitely something very different,” he told the Observer at the event.

Donaldson said he hopes, one day, to be recognised for a National Honour from the Government of Jamaica.

The singer said Brazil — with its more than 200 million people, the largest population of black people outside of Africa — has a true connection to the music from Jamaica.

“Right now, the people in Brazil don’t really listen to the lyrics but there is a type of melody and a bear that they are clearly connecting with from a longer time. So whenever anyone comes with that beat or that melody that you immediately capture the heart of the Brazilian. So clearly they find that in my music and I just have to give thanks as they are really showing me love down there,” he said.

Jamaica Festival Song Competition was first held in 1966. Its past winners include Toots and the Maytals, Desmond Dekker and the Aces, and Tinga Stewart.

Main photo: Eric Donaldson

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