Derrick Harriott: a lifetime of music

Derrick Harriott: a lifetime of music

By Aaliyah Cunningham
Observer writer

Friday, February 22, 2019

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Many persons have dedicated their lives to the development of Jamaican music, but their invaluable contribution is often forgotten. Singer/producer Derrick Harriott, whose musical career goes back to the 1950s, is one stalwart who remains visible.

He is one of 25 artistes and organisers to be honoured at the JaRIA Awards on March 5 at the Little Theatre in St Andrew. Harriott will receive a Lifetime Achievement Award in Music.

Harriott also received the Order of Distinction from the Jamaican government in 2009. Nevertheless, he is always happy to be recognised for his contribution.

“I feel very proud to be receiving this award and any other award I get,” he said. “Sometimes it seems like they have forgotten about us who paved the way. I see people who do far less getting the big features, so it's always good when they can recognise your work.”

Derrick Harriott recently celebrated his 80th birthday and is currently working with Luciano as producer on a song titled Bring Back The Ark of The Covenant. He is also remastering albums from his catalogue.

His career as a singer started when he entered the Vere Johns Opportunity Hour. Though he was not successful as a solo act, he then joined forces with Claude Sang Jr, and they won several times. While speaking to the Jamaica Observer's Splash, he recalled that experience which set the tone for his career.

“The show was (at) the Ambassador Theatre on Tuesdays and Fridays. I used to go to the talent show and sit and watch what was happening. I said to myself, 'I must can do better than these people'. I entered by myself at first but I never did so well. But then I entered again with Claude Sang Jr and it was just up from there. Every week we used to turn the theatre upside-down, in a good way,” he said.

The Vere Johns Opportunity Hour began in the 1940s and continued until the early 1960s. Many of Jamaica's top acts including Alton Ellis and John Holt, got their start on that talent contest.

After his experience on the show, Harriott formed Jiving Juniors which consisted of him, Eugene Dwyer, Herman Sang and Maurice Wynter. When the group parted, he went solo and later became a producer.

He had many number one and top five songs including What Can I Do, which he says is his personal favourite; Fistful of Dollars, The Loser and Walk The Streets.

As a producer, he worked with numerous artistes including the 'Crown Prince of Reggae' Dennis Brown.

“I was one of the first producers to work with Dennis Brown,” he said. “I worked with him at Dynamic Studios where he recorded Lips of Wine and Silhouette. When he came to me, he was young, he auditioned for me and did a few shows. I used to have to put him on the soundbox while he was performing so people could see him,” he recalls jokingly.

He also produced songs by The Chosen Few, Scotty, The Kingstonians and Keith and Tex. They recorded for his labels, Crystal and Move And Groove.

Harriott still contributes to music through his record store, located at Constant Spring Road in Kingston. He admits business is slow, but does his research to come up with strategies to keep the shop open.

“People don't buy records like one time, everybody getting the music online. Far less people are interested in records. So, what I do is try to get those records that are difficult to find or get and put them in the store, so sometimes my store is the only place you can get a particular record,” he explained.

Other 2019 JaRIA awardees are producers Donovan Germain, Dave Kelly, Winston Riley, Harry Johnson and Lloyd Charmers; musicians Lester Sterling, Felix “Deadly Headley” Bennett, and Ruff Kutt Band; artistes Capleton, Tanya Stephens, Eric Donaldson and The I-Three (Marcia Griffiths, Rita Marley and Judy Mowatt); audio engineers Delroy “Fatta” Pottinger and Noel Hearne; and journalist Anthony Miller.

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