Although he was never one for the spotlight, Lester Sterling loved to enjoy himself.
Family and friends of the famed saxophonist made sure he got a rousing send-off yesterday with a thanksgiving service for his life at Holy Cross Catholic Church in Half-Way-Tree, St Andrew.
A founding member of The Skatalites, Sterling died May 16 in the United States at age 87.
He was part of the band’s acclaimed three-pronged “sax attack” with Tommy McCook and Roland Alphonso.
Some of the classic songs made famous by the legendary band were performed by hornsmen weaned on the music of Sterling and his colleagues. Trumpeters Vivian Scott, Hopeton Williams and Mickey Hanson; trombonists Avery Crooks, Everton Gayle, Romeo Gray, and Sammy Johnson; and saxophonists Dean Fraser, I Sax, LeRoy Newell, Everol Gayle and Le Roy Graham, performed Freedom Sounds, Eastern Standard Time, Schooling The Duke, Bangarang (a Sterling solo hit), Lee Harvey Oswald and Below Zero.
There were also performances by Bongo Herman, singer Myrna Hague, and trumpeter Dwight Richards.
Hanson told the Jamaica Observer that he was influenced by Sterling, a past student of Alpha Boys’ School, who started his career on trumpet.
“I am a musician first of all and, as someone who grew up listening to The Skatalites, I had to be here. Lester played some really great solos, once you heard it you knew it was him,” said Hanson.
Entertainment minister Olivia “Babsy” Grange hailed Sterling as a pioneer who played a pivotal role in the development of Jamaican music. He earned the investiture into the Order of Distinction from the country’s Government for his contribution to music in 1998.
In attendance at the thanksgiving service was Sterling’s widow, Theresa, who donated one of his saxophones to Herbie Miller, a close friend and director of the Jamaica Music Museum.
She told the fair-sized gathering that her husband did not play music for monetary gain.
“Although he was taken advantage of financially, that never stopped him,” she said, while thanking the Jamaican Government and former Prime Minister P J Patterson for their assistance and concern while Sterling was ill.
Patterson was once manager of The Skatalites.
Also among the mourners were Sterling’s brother and fellow musician Keith Sterling, nieces Diana Atkinson and Pauline Atkinson, as well as grand-nieces Zahra Aikman and Jade Clementson.
Members of the music and entertainment fraternities also out to show their respect were music producer/musician Clive Hunt, Tommy Cowan, Frankie Campbell, drummer Albert “Ilawi” Johnson of the Twelve Tribes of Israel, singers Orville “Bagga” Case and Denzil “Dipstick” Williams, Desmond Young, former president of the Jamaica Federation of Musicians Professor Clinton Hutton, musicologist Roy Black, former Public Defender Franklin Witter, and Dr Dennis Howard.
Lester Sterling hailed from West Kingston. He played in clubs after leaving Alpha in the 1950s and became a member of The Skatalites when it formed in 1963.
Trombonist Don Drummond, trumpeter Johnny “Dizzy” Moore, guitarist Jerome “Jah Jerry” Haynes, bassist Lloyd Brevett, and keyboardist Jackie Mittoo were the band’s other founding members.