Doreen Shaffer: Queen of Ska

Observer senior reporter

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

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With February acknowledged as Reggae Month, the Jamaica Observer salutes some of the music's unsung heroes in this daily column.

Last night, The Skatalites were scheduled to perform on the Carnaval De Rua in Brazil. One of its members is singer Doreen Shaffer, who has been with the legendary band since it was formed in 1964.

Shaffer is now in her mid-70s and is one of reggae's true stalwarts. Along with Millie Small, Cherry Green and Beverly Kelso of The Wailers, and Patsy Todd, she got her start in the ska era, recording hit songs like Welcome You Back Home which she did with Barbadian singer Jackie Opel.

Importantly, she helped break down barriers and paved the way for female artistes who emerged in the rocksteady and reggae period.

After The Skatalites disbanded in 1965, Shaffer continued to record as a solo act, but also worked as a singer in The Bahamas during the late 1960s. In the 1970s, she had hit songs with Sugar Sugar and Try A Little Smile for Clement 'Coxson' Dodd.

In a 2010 interview with organisers of the Reggae Chiemsee festival in Germany, Shaffer said she became a singer against the wishes of her mother who wanted her to become a secretary. Being a woman in the early days of Jamaican music industry was tough.

“I had rough times. The female artistes at that time, it was really rough for us because you're in a man's world and they were more promoting men,” she recalled.

Shaffer rejoined the reformed Skatalites in 1992 and has been with them since then. With the deaths of Don Drummond, Johnny Moore, Jackie Mittoo, Jah Jerry Haynes, Tommy McCook, Roland Alphonso, Lloyd Brevett and Lloyd Knibb, she and saxophonist Lester Sterling are survivors of the classic lineup that recorded a series of timeless songs over 50 years ago.

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