Entertainment

Vere Johns, forgotten man of Jamaican music

Opportunity lost

By Basil Walters Observer writer waltersb@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, November 04, 2012    

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HE may have given many of Jamaica's top artistes their start, but Vere Johns remains an unknown to many of his countrymen.

In fact, the man who ran the Vere Johns Opportunity Hour and Opportunity Knocks talent shows has never received a national honour.

Johns died in 1966 at age 72.

Officials at the Chancery of the Orders of the Societies of Honour in the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) are unable to confirm if Johns has ever been recognised for his contribution to Jamaica's popular music.

"His name is not on the database," an official told the Jamaica Observer.

Former minister of culture Olivia 'Babsy' Grange says this oversight is unfortunate.

"I can't recall him getting a national honour. For a person who really did so much to expose Jamaican talent he deserves such recognition," she said.

"I think he should at least get an OD (Order of Distinction, Jamaica's fifth highest honour), especially in the 50th year of our music. Not enough people know the part that he played in the development of the music," Grange added.

Johns' Opportunity shows helped launch the careers of Alton Ellis, Hortense Ellis, Lloyd Charmers, John Holt, Bob Andy, Desmond Dekker, The Wailers, Jackie Edwards, Dobby Dobson, Boris Gardiner, Millie Small, Jimmy Cliff, the Blues Busters, Derrick Morgan, Lascelles Perkins, Higgs and Wilson, Bunny and Skully, Laurel Aitken, Jimmy Tucker, Girl Satchmo, Roy Richards, Charlie Organaire, and Rico Rodriguez.

Johns' Opportunity shows helped launch the careers of Alton Ellis, Hortense Ellis, Lloyd Charmers, John Holt, Bob Andy, Desmond Dekker, The Wailers, Jackie Edwards, Dobby Dobson, Boris Gardiner, Millie Small, Jimmy Cliff, the Blues Busters, Derrick Morgan, Lascelles Perkins, Higgs and Wilson, Bunny and Skully, Laurel Aitken, Jimmy Tucker, Girl Satchmo, Roy Richards, Charlie Organaire, and Rico Rodriguez.

Born Vere Everette Johns in Mandeville in November, 1893, Johns has at least one award to his name. The Vere Johns Award was part of singer/producer Clancy Eccles' annual awards show.

Johns was a journalist, radio personality and actor, but it was his talent shows at the Ambassador Theatre in Trench Town, St Andrew that brought him acclaim.

He single-handedly organised, financed and produced the events which started in the 1950s and ended a decade later.

Tucker, who grew up in Trench Town, said John's contributions transcended music.

"He is the foundation to all that goodwill and he had contemporaries like Father (Hugh) Sherlock (of Boys Town) and others. He made sacrifices for the youngsters including myself of western Kingston," said Tucker, a prodigy of the 1950s.

Kingsley Goodison, also known as King Omar, promoter of the annual Tribute to the Greats awards show, blamed lack of respect for Vere Johns on ignorance.

"The man dem dealing with National Honours don't know 'nutten' about Vere Johns. That man should get a OJ (Order of Jamaica, Jamaica's fourth highest honour) or a OM (Order of Merit, third highest)," Goodison stated.

Grange is co-chairman of the National Honours Cabinet Sub-committee. She says she would support any recommendation for Vere Johns' inclusion in next year's national honours list.

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