Roman Stewart: the forgotten Festival winner

By Howard Campbell
Observer senior writer

Friday, July 13, 2018

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This month the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission (JCDC) will crown the 51st Jamaica Festival Song Competition winner. The Jamaica Observer presents the fourth in a 10-part series on the contest which started in 1966.

THOUGH he was highly regarded in music circles, fans of the Festival Song Competition viewed Roman Stewart as Tinga Stewart's little brother when he entered that contest in 1975.

Roman proved he could stand on his own winning with Hooray Festival written by Tinga. The older Stewart won the previous year with Play de Music.

Only 18 years old at the time, Roman Stewart is the annual competition's youngest winner. Tinga was 19 when he won.

Hooray Festival is an interesting story. It was produced by singer Pluto Sherrington and arranged by guitarist Willie Lindo, who were senior players at Federal Records in Kingston.

Play de Music was written by singer Ernie Smith, who was Federal's biggest star in the 1970s.

Roman Stewart, like his brother, began recording in his early teens. While he had no major hit song going into 'Festival', his vocal style was admired and copied by other artistes including Dennis Brown, another teen singer and arguably the hottest artiste in Jamaica then.

“Roman Stewart was a great singer. Him used to sing opera as a likkle boy down at Victoria Pier an' people use to give him money. A really talented singer,” said Lindo.

Ironically, Lindo recalled Hooray Festival being eliminated in the preliminary round. It only made the final six when Toots and The Maytals, one of the finalists, had to withdraw to honour an overseas tour.

Hooray Festival was also not the judges' choice to win, according to Lindo. They favoured Freddie McKay's Roots Festival, but yielded to crowd pressure and declared Stewart winner.

Like his brother, Roman Stewart did not limit his talent to the Festival arena. One year after his victory he made Jamaican charts with Hit Song, considered a classic today.

Unlike Tinga, he never had a sustained run as a hitmaker, though he recorded for a number of top producers.

Roman Stewart died from heart failure in New York in January 2004 at age 36.

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