A star shines again

Dalton Harris lived in poverty after Rising Stars win

BY HG HELPS
Editor-at-Large
helpsh@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, November 18, 2018

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This article, first printed in the Jamaica Observer on Sunday, September 8, 2013, chronicles the life of Dalton Harris, the Jamaican singer who has been wowing judges and audiences at Britain's X Factor television talent show over the past few weeks. The results of yesterday's show, on which Harris performed, will be publicised today.

DALTON Harris is a success story that almost never was.

Born and raised in poverty, Harris overcame the odds to win the popular Digicel Rising Stars title in 2010. He was 16 years old at the time.

But shortly after, misfortune set in. A string of hard times followed him like a lost puppy and the young artiste was left to fend for himself in living conditions that were unbearable, despite his winning $1 million as part of his Rising Stars prize.

What happened with the earnings from the Rising Stars competition is a story that Dalton has postponed for now.

He dropped out of Edwin Allen High School at the 10th grade, lived alone in a dwelling that was bereft of amenities, such as running water and electricity and was lost to the world.

But all that changed when he met music promoter/producer Donovan Germain, the chief executive officer of Penthouse Records.

After two years of association, Harris, now 19, got into Kingston College (KC) in 2011, and graduated last term with six Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) subjects, which allowed him to enrol in the school's sixth form programme.

“It was a progressive experience in terms of getting used to certain things,” Harris told the Jamaica Observer in an interview, in specific reference to his move from Edwin Allen to KC.

“I remember Mr Germain dropping me off on my first day at KC and my pants were up here. I had on this combat-looking shoes and when I walked into the school everybody saying 'Ah Dalton Harris dat or not?'

he recalled.

“And then me getting used to this 'town' thing was another matter. With 'town' kids, if you say something wrong the whole school would say 'Oooh', and I was wondering what that was; so the first time I experienced that, I was afraid, because it was the first time I was going to an all-boys school. So when school was over on the first day, I run go home, didn't even know Kingston, but I was through the gate and jumped on a bus,” Harris said.

The young artiste, who still holds the record of being the youngest Digicel Rising Stars winner, repeated the 10th grade at KC, and after a stuttered start, he emerged from the ruins to improve his academic performance and eventually was one of the top performers in his class at the end of the year.

The six CSEC subjects that he aced last school year have projected the Sanguinetti (near Spalding) North West Clarendon-born youth into a comfort zone that hitherto was a dream.

“I am the first male in my family of 22 brothers and sisters between my mother and father, to go this far with education,” he said.

He praised the teaching techniques at KC for paving the way.

“In terms of teaching, the teachers are very consistent... they listen to you and that is really good. Learning is interactive, very flexible. KC's teaching strategy is very commendable.

“It was really hard at KC in the first part. You had some days that I didn't want to go to school. At KC, hype is a big thing among the students, if you are popular.

“They knowing me when I got there made it a bit uncomfortable, because I didn't want to go to school and have people constantly coming up to me and saying a you this and a you that. It's a bunch of boys and you are going to have this ego thing. It was uncomfortable at first, but I got to understand it, moved past it, got to ignore it and it eventually stopped,” Harris said.

“The teachers and other workers never really paid much attention to that because, I guess, of the level of professionalism that they exercised.

“People even came to me for autographs, all in fun,” he added.

Germain, the man whom Harris credited with “saving” his life, described himself as Dalton's father, mentor, and role model, who is proud that he has taken his education thus far.

“I always watched Rising Stars to see if I can find a youngster whom I can work with. When I looked at him I said, 'this youth sounds like him have some talent', so I decided to work with him,” Germain explained.

“He used to take bus or truck from Clarendon and come to Kingston. What endeared me to him was that he would leave, didn't know his way, and would walk from Three Miles or Hagley Park Road to come to the studio (at Ballater Avenue). It showed that he really wanted to be somebody in the industry. He would go down in the night and by next morning he would be back up again. It showed that he had ambition,” Germain said.

There were deep personal issues associated with Harris though, and Germain soon had to get involved.

“He was carrying a lot of personal baggage, based on his socialisation. I decided to do some work with him, and Headline Entertainment got him into a boarding house somewhere in Havendale, so that when school time came up, I would get to see what he was doing academically,” Germain explained.

“When he came to the studio, he would sit all day and talk to nobody. And you would look at him and say 'this youth is carrying some serious baggage in his life'.

“Some people would say he had an 'attitude problem', but being a product of KC where the mentorship is so strong, it becomes a part of you to reach out and help people,” said Germain.

“One day he came and I asked to see his school report, which showed that he wasn't going to school. He was missing 40-odd days from school and when you talk to him you hear the foundation of a youth who has ability, but his social structure was wrong.

“So I said, how do I help this youth? The place he was staying at Havendale, he and the people were not getting along. So I told him to come and stay with me and my family.

“He was doing nothing at Edwin Allen... he was his own man before he reached age 15... he was on his own,” added Germain, the former manager of imprisoned Reggae star Buju Banton (real name Mark Myrie).

One condition that Germain laid down to Harris was that when he entered KC, he was expected to conduct himself with a high level of discipline and professionalism, and would not be allowed to do anything to embarrass him, or else he would be “dead like Auntie Fowl”.

Harris' social situation caused some anxiety at KC, as a grade co-ordinator complained to Germain that the youngster had an “attitude problem”.

“They did not know his history, so I had to tell them where he was coming from and where we wanted him to be. They got a better understanding of his situation. The fact that he was out there so long on his own, he developed certain attitudes,” said Germain.

In addition to informing the KC community of Harris' antecedents, Germain went about setting some strict rules for the youngster.

“He cannot set foot in the studio when school is going on; only during holiday time, because he must get his education in place,” the music promoter explained.

“He had no choice but to go to sixth form and from there it's on to university. It makes no sense having talent and [you] can't represent yourself and you can't represent my company.

“Until he gets his bachelor's degree, I will be there supporting him,” said Germain, who represented KC in the Manning Cup football competition in 1969, alongside Jamaica players Howard “Howie” Bell, Derrick “Shastri” Denniser, and track star Trevor “TC” Campbell.

Harris, having weathered the earlier storm, is now fully focused on wearing the sixth form white shirt with pride and excelling.

“You are ready whenever you make yourself ready,” he said.

“I am capable. The mindset is already in tune to attending school. For the past week I have not written a song. I used to go jogging with Mr Germain, but I stopped because my mind is just not there; it's just conditioning now for the new school year,” Harris said.

“I just started writing the end of last summer into this summer and you know when school starts there is no studio, no musical interaction,” added Harris, who last July became the first member of a KC graduating class to sing at the event held at the Jamaica Conference Centre, bringing the house down in the process, and forcing school chaplain, Canon Abner Powell, to comment: “This man needs a manager.”

Harris' life experience has basically shaped his choice of a career.

“Based on my background, I really would like to do psychology,” he told the Sunday Observer. “I wanted to teach, but the recent clampdown on teaching (oversupply of teachers), taking that career path had me thinking, so the other way to help people is social work.

“Given the teaching experience that I received at KC, that made me want to become a teacher, so that I could help someone like me, but psychology it is for now,” Harris said.

These days, Harris walks with pride as he begins the countdown to an even better life, as long as he continues along a similar path.

“At one point I used to hide my face when I was going to KC, because people would recognise me, cuss me and say that I have nothing because I waste my Rising Stars money, so that took a lot out of me. It's a harsh public out there,” he lamented.

“I am trying to multitask... school and personal things. I have the push and hunger for that success,” said Harris, who intends to embark on a programme to become an amateur chef soon.

The former pupil of Sanguinetti Infant and Primary schools, who was once sponsored by Member of Parliament Richard Azan, communicates “moderately” with his mother, but hardly with his father.

“He has made me proud, because I know what we have been through and I know where he is coming from,” Germain said.

“He has made some unilateral decisions that have backfired on him, but it's a learning process.

“I will encourage him to continue his music career, but he has to have an education. There are no guarantees about music. Many artistes have come and after their singing days, you have to be passing round a hat for them. We don't want that. He has to do what he has to do and he has the potential,” Germain added.

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