Pioneering DJ U-Roy Dies at 78

Ewart Beckford, O.D., commonly known as U-Roy, who helped originate the modern DJ rap style has died.

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Ewart Beckford, O.D., commonly known as U-Roy, who helped originate the modern DJ rap style has died.

Born September 21, 1942 in Jones Town, Saint Andrews Parish, Jamaica, Beckford’s career began around 1961, when he began DJing for Doctor Dickie’s Dynamite sound system. Over the next several years, Beckford bounced around various sound systems slowly building a reputation for his vocal gifts.

A turning point in his career arrived in 1970 when the reggae star John Holt heard U-Roy DJing at a sound system party. Holt heard him toasting to his reggae hit, “Wear You to the Ball,” and was so impressed that he convinced producer Duke Reid to record some tracks with him. “Wake the Town,” based on Alton Ellis’ “Girl I’ve Got a Date,” was an instant hit, soaring to the top of Jamaican charts. This was followed by “Rule the Nation,” which was performed over the track of “Love is Not a Gamble” by the Techniques. It was also a massive hit followed by “Wear You to the Ball,” which gave U-Roy a trifecta when all three songs held the top three positions on the charts.

In the wake of U-Roy’s success, every producer in town was recording DJs. Arguably, the most enduring DJ to follow U-Roy’s success was Big Youth, but there were many others influenced by him.

By the mid-1970s, U-Roy was developing a following in the United Kingdom. He made his first appearance there in August 1976.

U-Roy would go on to establish his own sound system, Stur-Gav as well as operating his own record labels.

In 2007, U-Roy was a recipient of the Order of Distinction by the Jamaican government for his contribution to music.

He died Wednesday, February 17, 2021. He was 78 years old.

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