Tyrone Downie: From North Street to beat street
Tyrone Downie on keyboard at the Kingston College Chapel in February 2016. (Photos: Observer file)

The Jamaica Observer’s Entertainment Desk continues with the 17th in its Child Month series highlighting some of Jamaica’s young performers who shot to stardom.

WHEN Tyrone Downie left Kingston College (KC) in fourth form to pursue life as a professional musician, the school’s head music teacher Douglas Forrest made a dire prediction.

“You are going to end up just like that Mittoo boy,” he recalled Forrest saying in a 1994 interview with this writer.

Downie, a keyboardist, was more excited than crestfallen at this ominous forecast. Jackie Mittoo, his hero, was also a prodigy who left KC in fourth form.

After making his recording debut as a 15-year-old on Cherry Oh Baby, the 1971 Festival Song Contest winner, Downie went on to a stellar career with Bob Marley and The Wailers.

He played on six of the reggae legend’s albums with Island Records starting with Live! in 1975. Downie’s distinctive tones can also be heard on Marley’s Rastaman Vibration and the epic Exodus.

Such was his prodigious talent, he played on four seminal albums before his 20th birthday — Rastaman Vibration, Legalize It by Peter Tosh, Blackheart by Bunny Wailer, and Marcus Garvey by Burning Spear.

After Marley’s death in 1981 at age 36, Downie continued to tour with The Wailers. He also recorded with African acts like Alpha Blondy and Youssou N’Dour.

In February 2016, Tyrone Downie returned to the hallowed Kingston College chapel at North Street where he had learned to play the organ. It was for a tribute to Jackie Mittoo who died in 1990.

He received an honourary tie and certificate from the Kingston College Old Boys’ Association. It was an emotional homecoming.

“I used to get caned for playing reggae in that chapel. Now we’re playing reggae in the chapel and getting awards for it,” he told the Jamaica Observer.

Bob Marley and Tyrone Downie in Boston, US, in 1980. (Photo: Reggae Cornerstone)
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.
Howard Campbell

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