In search of ET

Observer senior writer

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

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During his years at Kingston College, no teacher could hold Donovan Donaldson's attention as much as disc jockey Errol Thompson. Donaldson remembers going to the Jamaica Broadcasting Corporation (JBC) radio station and listening intently to the man known as ET.

Thirty-five years after Thompson's mysterious death, Donaldson is seeking assistance to release a documentary about his mentor. He has over 24 cassette tapes he made of Thompson's Evening People Show between 1977 and 1980.

Thompson was killed in 1983 at age 31. No one was charged for his murder.

Donaldson, who is based in Colorado where he hosts Reggae Bloodlines on the KGNU radio station, told the Jamaica Observer that his proposed biography about arguably Jamaica's most influential radio personality is in limbo.

“The idea of a documentary has been with me for a couple decades, but since the death of Errol Thompson about 35 years ago, I have proposed other avenues to some Jamaican radio stations, to join with me on airing the tapes in a series of programmes. Mr Newton James of Power 106 FM was the only one gracious enough to even hear me out,” said Donaldson. “The last 10 years I have been trying to ascertain some facts about the life and death of ET. Any presentation of a credible and fair depiction of the man will require a challenging amount of time and resources. Right now, my project is stalled.”

Donaldson, 59, said he has digitised his tapes and hopes to find a benefactor to fund the documentary which would trace ET's return to Jamaica from the United States and Howard University in the early 1970s, to his career at the JBC, and his influence over artistes such as Bob Marley and emerging DJs like Barrington “Barry G” Gordon.

Thompson's show aired weekdays during the evening. It showcased him playing a mix of roots-reggae and the soul/funk music he came to love while living in the US. His unique delivery won him wide listenership that included a teenaged Donaldson.

“In an age where Jamaican broadcast media was nothing but an elitist conglomeration, Errol Thompson came along and challenged the whole structure that still is the backbone of that Jamaican medium,” said Donaldson. “He was the most astutely skilful personality that Jamaican radio has ever known, and by his utterances was subject to dismissal and other punitive actions for his on-air deftness. He dared to challenge the status quo that was entrenched in the system,” Donaldson added.

Thompson had a close personal and professional relationship with several artistes including Marley, Sangie Davis, Prince Lincoln of the Royal Rasses and Marcia Griffiths, who bore him two children.

In an interview last year with the French website unitedreggae.com, Griffiths spoke about their relationship.

“I saw a virtue in Errol. Even before we became close. He came here quite normal and sane and brilliant and a very bright person. One of the best disc jockeys Jamaica has ever had or heard. Until he started smoking herb. I don't think he was able to manage it and he started some strange behaviours. Causing people to disrespect him,” she said.

Despite his eccentricities, Donovan Donaldson believes Errol Thompson's story should be told.

“His fervent expressions of empathy endeared him to the Jamaican people. His concerns for the poor, the Rasta community, the farmers, and his general words of encouragement to the struggling and downtrodden underclass, were urgent and sincere,” he said.

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