Passage - Winston Blake

Passage - Winston Blake


Saturday, December 24, 2016

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IN a 2003 interview with the Jamaica Observer, Winston Blake said when he left Kingston College in the late 1950s, "I was ready for the world."

And ready to take over the Merritone sound system his father Val started in their native St Thomas in 1950.

Blake died in February at age 75. He was synonymous with Merritone, one of Jamaica’s most revered sound systems.

He passed away at the University Hospital of the West Indies. Blake suffered a stroke in January and was recuperating at home, but his health deteriorated one month later.

While still at Kingston College, Winston and his older brother Trevor assumed the reins of Merritone in 1956 when their father died.

He credited the discipline they learned from the school’s stalwarts, including Bishop Percival Gibson and Douglas Forrest, for helping develop their little ‘country sound’.

During a memorial at Hope Gardens in St Andrew in April, Blake’s Kingston College schoolmate Delano "Zack" Harrison, QC, recalled his friend’s special qualities.

"As a first former at Kingston College, Winston, who was an older boy than I, made it clear from early that he was a great entertainer. He wore a different type of khaki, dressed differently, and every new hairstyle he was the first one in it. Years to come, as a sixth former, I got my first exposure to Merritone music. They played at an Independence party that I had attended, and from there on Merritone represented the greater part of exposure to real happiness since it satisfied my interest in music. Winston, representing Merritone, played music differently from everyone else. He applied great intelligence both in practicality and emotionally. He knew how to read those whom he was entertaining, alternating the music in a way that people kept dancing."

Initially, Merritone played the rural areas, but became a force throughout Kingston during the 1960s. They played the most popular venues, such as Wembley Sports Club, Glassbucket and Little Copa.

The Blake brothers (which also included the younger Tyrone and Monty) launched the Turntable Club along the Red Hills Road strip in the early 1970s. It quickly became a meeting spot for the hip crowd.

Winston Blake was also a music producer and promoter of talent contests that helped launch the careers of his wife Cynthia Schloss and Beres Hammond.

He produced several of Schloss’s hit songs, including Love Forever and Surround Me With Love. She died in 1999.

He was a founding member of the Jamaica Association of Vintage Artistes, and despite ailing, played Thursdays at the Waterfalls club in St Andrew.

Winston Blake was invested with the Order of Distinction from the Jamaican Government in 1995.

— Howard Campbell

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