Family ties: The Lees remember Seaga

BY KEDIESHA PERRY
Observer writer

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

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DESPITE being unable to attend the thanksgiving service for former Prime Minister Edward Seaga on Sunday, Julianne Lee was glued to her television set for live coverage of the event.

She said a dark cloud hung over her household.

“First of all, it is a very sad time for Mrs (Sheila) Lee — (her mother) — from a history point of view, since she knew the family from she was a child. Then, on the music side of things, Mrs Lee, who was the founder of Dynamic Sounds along with Mr Lee, worked very closely with Mr Seaga. But it was very touching to see the support shown from the music fraternity. It really shows the impact that Mr Seaga had on the industry,” she told the Jamaica Observer yesterday.

Julianne Lee is the daughter of bandleader Byron Lee.

She was unable to attend the service because her mother (a member of the Khouri family) is recovering from surgery.

Seaga, 89, died on May 28, his birthday, in a Florida hospital where he had gone to receive treatment for cancer.

The ceremony was held at Holy Trinity Cathedral in Kingston. Seaga's remains were interred at National Heroes' Park in Kingston.

Aside from his role as the nation's fifth prime minister, Seaga had a profound impact on the development of Jamaican music in the early 1960s.

“He (Mr Seaga) did not create ska. However, he certainly did whatever he could do to popularise it, to bring awareness to it. He leveraged all his relationships possible to exploit ska,” said Julianne Lee, daughter of late band-leader Byron Lee.

“Dad had a series, as did the other bands, of stage shows, where they'd have front line singers come in and sing their songs. He (Seaga) felt confident and chose Byron Lee to bring the stage show to America… Eddie Seaga knew what he was doing. Byron Lee was the Pied Piper, Eddie Seaga was the strategic lead, and together they just continued to fuel and energise each other with this momentum, so it was a really good partnership. It stimulated Dad and Uncle Eddie, and they did very well together,” Lee said.

Seaga, then Jamaica's minister of social welfare and economic development, was instrumental in placing Byron Lee and his band, The Dragonaires, at the 1964 World's Fair in New York. They helped promote ska.

In the late 1950s Seaga founded West Indies Recording Limited (WIRL), which was one of the most successful recording labels in the Caribbean of that period. He collaborated with Lee and The Dragonaires to produce the hit song Dumplings.

Julianne Lee said the relationship between the two men could only be ended by her father's death in 2008.

“They had a great chemistry together and it further rooted, or it deepened, the bond that the both of them had. Dad admired Mr Seaga tremendously, and this was the beginning of a lifelong relationship. Whenever Mr Seaga needed Dad to do anything, because of that deep connection, respect and almost hero reverence, Dad dropped anything he was doing any time Mr Seaga called him to assist,” she stated.

As Jamaica's Independence from Great Britain neared in 1962, Seaga opted to focus on his political career. WIRL was sold in shares.

“Mr Seaga was becoming more and more involved politically, and he sold it out to a Bajan company (50 per cent), Bunny Rae (25 per cent), and George Benson (25 per cent). Eventually George Benson left and formed his own record company, Record Specialist, and Byron and Sheila bought into it (in 1961),” Lee explained. “After a brief period the management team was having a hard time and then Byron and Sheila bought full ownership. During that time they also built a studio and they implemented the name Dynamic Sounds Recording Company and Studios.”

She shared her memories of Seaga.

“All my siblings knew him, worked with him… I was a little girl going on political rallies with my Dad whenever Dad would do the entertainment production side of it. Dad's position would be in the middle of the mixing consoles and he'd be up on stage performing and sure, I'd be there. Never once I felt unsafe. I know Mr Seaga's children as well, as do my children know Mr Seaga,” she said.


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