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Delroy Wilson-The Child Prodigy

Updated: Aug 26, 2022


In 1957, the Jamaican music scene was just beginning to find its footing. The idea of having people record their voices had started to gain traction and in the capital city Kingston where businessman Stanley Motta had begun to offer recording services for a fee, participants in the local singing talent contests gradually became prime targets for record producers to record American influenced ballads in the blues and R&B vein, primarily for replay on the growing list of sound systems that had sprung up around the city. In a period when imported music content was often difficult to come by, these local recordings or specials as they were called, gained traction amongst local dance patrons who were eager to hear the voices of their own Jamaicans. One such voice belonged to the pint-sized Delroy Wilson.


Delroy Wilson was born in Trench Town on October 5, 1948. He was only nine years old when he started to distinguish himself on the talent concert circuit and was quickly snapped up by the emerging soundman and developing record producer Clement “Sir Coxsone” Dodd. In 1962, Wilson recorded his first work for Coxsone, a blues-tinged number entitled “If I had a beautiful Baby.” The song was not particularly successful, but it did provide confirmation to Coxsone of Wilson’s natural vocal talent. Wilson would soon follow this up with another blues number “Emmy Lou” in 1963. That same year he produced “Spit in the Sky” a tune that was deliberately aimed at Coxsone’s rival Prince Buster, who had earlier released a tune called “Bad Minded People” aimed as a rebuke of Coxsone, Buster’s former employer with whom he had a very contentious break-up and became the source of a long-running feud. Lee “Scratch” Perry who worked with Coxsone at the time, penned "Joe Liges" another sharp rebuke, this time aimed at Prince Buster’s "Bad Minded People." Not only did "Joe Liges" score against Buster, it provided Delroy Wilson with his first chart hit and opened up the Jamaican public’s interest in the diminutive singer as they were now eager to hear what he would come with next. The youthful Delroy Wilson thus became a major weapon in Coxsone’s arsenal as he put out numerous “throw-word” songs aimed at Buster as well as against fellow Producer and soundman Arthur “Duke the Trojan” Reid.

COXSONE'S MUSICAL WEAPON The year 1962 marked the beginning of the Ska music era in Jamaica and during the period Delroy Wilson became a prolific hit-maker, turning out a slew of hit singles including "Prince Pharaoh" and "I Shall Not Remove," the latter titling Wilson's 1966 debut album, while he also cut the pro-Rasta anthem "The Lion of Judah," a celebration of the visit of the then Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia to Jamaica in 1966. This was followed by a cover of the Tams “Dancing Mood’ which was released late 1966. The song was a ground-breaking work for Wilson whose voice had now matured as he hit his pubescent years, helping to set the stage for the rocksteady era. The song was a smash hit, and remained a favorite among Jamaican music fans, prompting the singer to revisit this song several times in later years.


As the Rock Steady years developed Delroy Wilson birthed a deluge of tunes including "Riding for a Fall," "Once Upon a Time," "Won't You Come Home," "Conquer Me," "True Believer," "I'm Not a King," and a cover of Adam Wades "Rain from the Sky," all of which flooded out of Studio One and onto the Jamaican chart, establishing Wilson as one of the label's biggest hitmakers. Unfortunately for Delroy Wilson though his prolific hits with Coxsone hardly provided him with any financial rewards and in 1967 he departed Studio One to join forces with Bunny “Striker” Lee. The decision though was short-lived but nevertheless resulted in a clutch of notable recordings, including "This Old Heart of Mind," before the singer briefly returned to Studio One, only to depart within a year later and to launch his W&C label with fellow vocalist Wilburn Cole. The label was launched with Delroy Wilson’s single "Once Upon a Time" and the duo's "I Want to Love You," two reasonably good songs, but they were not enough to keep the label afloat. Wilson would next join forces with Ken Boothe, the Gaylads, and the Melodians to form the Links label which suffered the same fate but not before releasing a small number of singles, including Wilson's fabulous "Give Love a Try," before it folded.

Following the failure of Links, Wilson moved to Sonia Pottinger where he unleashed another stream of classic singles, including the major hit "Put Yourself in My Place." ELUSIVE SUCCESS

Despite this taste of success though, Wilson still yearned for more and joined with upcoming producer Keith Hudson for a brief period, releasing for a phenomenal recut of "Run Run," retitled "I'm Gonna Get You." Afterwards he rejoined many of his old Links compatriots at producer Leslie Kong’s Beverley label where he a number of songs including "Show Me the Way" and the effervescent "Gave You My Love." This successful run resulted in a tour of the UK in 1970, where he discovered that a large volume of his work was in circulation but for which he had received no compensation. The realized UK popularity led to the singer doing some recordings with the Trojan label before he headed back to Jamaica. Back in Jamaica, Wilson continued the studio rounds, working with a variety of producers, including Clement “Sir Coxsone” Dodd and Bunny Lee with who he released in 1971, the seminal "Better Must Come," a song which was intended as a lament for better days as a singer. Unfortunately, the People’s National Party (PNP) commandeered the tune and without getting any permission from the singer, used it as a campaign song for the 1972 elections. Ironically, the song itself was a fitting epithet of the period and helped sweep the PNP into political power and provided the title to Wilson’s next album. He would follow up the massive hit with the single "Cool Operator."

Wilson would continue to put out more seminal material for several different producers including returning to some of the older ones he had worked with including Coxsone, Pottinger, Hudson, and Bunny Lee. He worked with Gussie Clarke, Harry J, Phil Pratt and A Folder for whom he released the epic "Have Some Mercy." In 1976 he cut the smash hit “I’m Still Waiting” for Lloyd Charmers, which was a cover of the Wailers single. Nevertheless, Wilson’s career crept to a slow halt as the 1980s opened up and with it the rise of the DJ’s.


In 1994, he was awarded a plaque by the government of Jamaica for his enduring contribution to Jamaica’s music which was presented to him by Prime Minister Patterson. He continued recording sporadically during the early '90s, but by then his health was failing badly. On March 6, 1995, Delroy Wilson died of cirrhosis of the liver, a condition brought on by excessive alcohol consumption. He was only 46 years old.

In 2013 Wilson was posthumously awarded the Order of Distinction by the Jamaican Government. In 2015 Wilson's childhood friend Everard "Jah Ruby" Metcalf released the album The Delroy Wilson Story, featuring 21 cover versions of Wilson's songs.

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