Homecoming farewell for Tyrone
(From left) Keyboardist Bowie McLaughlin, Donna Reid from duo Althea & Donna, singer David Hinds, engineer/producer Delroy Fatta Pottinger, and impresario Tommy Cowan at the funeral of Wailers keyboardist Tyrone Downie held at the Kingston College Chapel on North Street recently.

FOR most of his 66 years, Tyrone Downie was a world traveller. A talented musician who recorded and toured with the best in the music business, including Bob Marley, Burning Spear, Peter Tosh, and Youssou N'Dour.

But at his thanksgiving service on November 26, in the Kingston College Chapel at North Street, the keyboardist's roles as student, father, companion and colleague were recalled by those who knew him intimately. It was a homecoming for The Wailers stalwart whose skills on the organ were nurtured in the hallowed chapel under the tutelage of Douglas Forrest.

Ian Jackson, his classmate, remembers when a group of them from 'little KC' (Elletson Road) attended track meets at KC's North Street campus. They got a sign of things to come.

"We all went right to the playing field, Tyrone went left to the chapel," he related.

Victor, one of his nine children, flew in from Africa for the service. He spoke openly of an indifferent relationship with his father while growing up in France where he was born and where Downie lived for many years.

It was the first time Victor met all his siblings and it was worth the wait.

"When I look at them I can see various sides of your personality. It's like you never left us," he said.

Tommy Cowan, representing the music industry, read a statement from Entertainment Minister Olivia "Babsy" Grange. He remembered fondly taking Downie to his first recording session at Dynamic Sounds to cut Cherry Oh Baby by Eric Donaldson, which won the 1971 Festival Song Contest.

Cowan noted his role in shaping reggae as a world force with Marley's Wailers. He acknowledged the presence of Al Anderson, the former Wailers and Peter Tosh guitarist who knew Downie for almost 50 years.

Anderson bowed at Downie's urn, then spoke glowingly of his friend's boundless talent. He admitted that although once inseparable, differences prevented them from speaking to each other in five years.

One person Downie spoke to a lot in the past six years was Bernadine Simpson whom he first met 39 years ago at a show in Kingston. She recalled being swept by his charm but because of her father's opposition, the would-be relationship floundered and both moved on to long-term relationships.

In 2016, they rediscovered each other through social media and rekindled a love that seemed lost. She was with him when he died on November 5.

A number of fellow musicians attended the service including keyboardists Ibo Cooper, Robbie Lyn and Steven Stewart, songwriter Mikie Bennett, David Hinds of Steel Pulse, Althea and Donna, guitarist Earl "Chinna" Smith, former Wailers chef Gladstone "Gilly Ras" Gilbert, and Pascaline Bongo, Gabon's former minister of foreign affairs.

Keyboard player Tyrone Downie making a presentation after receiving an award from the Kingston College Old Boys Association for his contribution to Jamaican music in February 2016. (Photo: Observer file)
Howard Campbell

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