Errol Dunkley — from schoolboy to star
Errol Dunkley

The Jamaica Observer’s Entertainment Desk continues with the third in its series during Child Month highlighting some of Jamaica’s young performers who shot to stardom.

AT 11 years old most children are preoccupied with the latest toys and gadgets. This, however, was not the case for Errol Dunkley who started out in the early 1960s as a member of the duo School Boys, with Junior English.

“He [Errol Dunkley] was very good. He had a very good voice as a youngster and he started in the ska era,” Michael Barnett, impresario of the popular Startime series and disc jockey at Kool FM, told the Jamaica Observer.

The Kingston-born Dunkley found recognition during the rocksteady era, recording for producer Joe Gibbs.

“While recording for Gibbs he had some massive hits with songs like You’re Gonna Need Me, Please Stop Lying, and I’m Going Home,” said Barnett. “It was during this period he established himself as a bonafide star.”

According to Barnett, during the rocksteady craze Dunkley shifted his focus to another child star.

“He then started to sing over some Delroy Wilson songs and started somewhat of a competition with Delroy. In his response Delroy did You Trying to Conquer Me... Is Errol he did that song for,” said Barnett.

The Delroy Wilson covers by Dunkley included Movie Star, which was originally done as Don’t Know Why; and Can’t Love Another (It’s Impossible), done as It’s Impossible by Wilson.

The singer and Gibbs had a falling out and he moved to the venerable Studio One under legendary producer Clement “Coxson” Dodd.

“It was at Studio One that he recorded the big song Black Cinderella,” said Barnett.

Dunkley continued to record throughout the 1970s and toward the end of the decade his popularity in the United Kingdom peaked. His breakthrough on the UK Singles Chart hit came in 1979 with OK Fred, a cover of a John Holt original, that reached number 11. His 1980 release Sit Down And Cry also made that chart.

Dunkley partnered with fellow singer Gregory Isaacs in 1973 and started the African Star label.

Barnett started the Startime series in 1989 at the Ocean Hotel in downtown Kingston. At the peak of its popularity during the 1990s rocksteady revival Dunkley performed during the show on several occasions.

“He’s a crowd favourite; he appeared about 10 to 12 times. I first used him on the show in 1996. He was living in England at the time and when he came and performed and saw the crowd’s response to him, he never went back to England. He’s popular and does a good show. He’s a true professional,” said Barnett.

Dunkley, 71, still records. His last album, Kool Runnings, was released in 2021.

Brian Bonitto

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