|Birth name||Ewart Beckford|
|Also known as||The Originator|
|Born||21 September 1942|
|Origin||Jones Town, Jamaica|
|Labels||Treasure Isle, Duke Reid, Virgin|
Ewart Beckford OD (born 21 September 1942,), better known by the stage name U-Roy, is a Jamaican vocalist and pioneer of toasting. U-Roy is noted for a melodic style of toasting applied with a highly developed sense of timing.
Early life 
Born Ewart Beckford in Jones Town, Saint Andrews Parish, Kingston, Jamaica, he was raised within a religious and musical family; his mother was an organist for the choir at a local Seventh Day Adventist church. The sobriquet U-Roy originated from a younger member of his family who found it difficult to pronounce his first name. Beckford attended Denham Town High School in Kingston. As a young man Beckford listened to the music of Louis Prima, James Brown, Ruth Brown, Fats Domino, Rufus Thomas, Smiley Lewis and was especially influenced by the vocal phrasing of Louis Jordan.
Inspired by Count Matchuki he started his professional career as a DJ in 1961 on Dickie Wong's sound system (originally called Doctor Dickies later changed to Dickies Dynamic) moving later to the Sir George the Atomic sound system. Beckford then worked on Sir Coxsone Dodd's sound system where he ran the number two set while King Stitt "The Ugly One" ran the main set. This was followed by a period with Sir Percy before he moved to King Tubby's Hometown Hi-Fi sound system. Beckford's first single "Dynamic Fashion Way" (1969) was a Keith Hudson production. It was followed by the Bunny Striker Lee production "Earth's Rightful Ruler" with Peter Tosh.
In 1970 Jamaican singer John Holt (lead vocalist of The Paragons) heard Beckford toasting over a Duke Reid track at a dance. Holt told Duke Reid about the performance and on his recommendation Duke Reid asked Beckford to come and see him and an informal recording deal was arranged. Beckford's first two singles released on Duke Reid's Treasure Isle label, "Wake the Town" (1970) and "Wear You to the Ball" (1970), were Jamaican hits and established his reputation as one of Jamaica's most popular toasters. Beckford then went on to work with other major producers on the island including Bunny Lee, Phil Pratt, Sonia Pottinger, Rupie Edwards, Alvin Ranglin and Lloyd Daley. 1971 saw the release of Beckford's DJ version of The Paragons' "The Tide Is High". Beckford's first tour of the UK in 1972 (the tour also featured the artists Roy Shirley and Max Romeo) was organized by Rita and Benny King who ran a label called R & B Records based in Stamford Hill, London.
In 1975 the album Dread in a Babylon (produced by "Prince" Tony Robinson) was released on Virgin. The album's skank hit "Runaway Girl" propelled Beckford onto the international stage establishing his reputation with reggae fans world-wide. The album also garnered significant acclaim and sales in the United Kingdom which was due in part to the ongoing expansion of the Virgin label and stores. The success of Dread in a Babylon led to a series of Tony Robinson produced albums: Natty Rebel (1976), Rasta Ambassador (1977) and Jah Son of Africa (1978). Beckford's international popularity led to the album Natty Rebel being released in 1976 on Virgins' imprint Front Line label in Nigeria as well as in France on Virgin and Polydor.
In 1978 Beckford started his own sound system which he named Stur Gav after his sons; the sound system would launch the careers of a younger generation of toasters and singers including Ranking Joe, Jah Screw, Charlie Chaplin and Josey Wales. In 1980 the pop group Blondie had a world-wide hit with the reggae track "The Tide Is High" which prompted Virgin to re-release the original Paragons' track from 1967 and the 1971 U-Roy version as a single that same year. His most recent album is Pray Fi Di People which was released in 2012.
U-Roy's Music and Rastafarianism
The tenets of Rastafianism has been a feature of Beckford's lyrics from his earliest singles to his latest album Pray Fi Di People. Beckford's second single "Earth's Rightful Ruler" (1969) opens with a profession of Rastafarian faith given in the Ethiopian language Arhamic:
Kibir amlak (Glory to Jah)
Qedamawi ras fetari (First creator)
Qedamawi iyesus kristos (Holy Jesus Christ)
Lebdama mabrak isad
Beckford's "Joyful Locks" (1975) is a DJ version of Linval Thompson's "Don't Cut Off Your Dreadlocks"; an encouragement to others to keep their dreadlocks and to "let it grow". The original song and Beckford's DJ version both allude to the biblical Samson who as a Nazarite was expected to make certain religious vows including the ritual treatment of his hair as described in Chapter Six of the Book of Numbers:
All the days of the vow of his separation there shall no razor come upon his head: until the days be fulfilled, in the which he separateth himself unto the Lord, he shall be holy, and shall let the locks of the hair of his head grow.
The cover artwork for the album Dread in a Babylon (1975), which features the artist disappearing in a thick cloud of cannabis smoke while holding a chalice, is an expression of the Rastafarian belief in the benefits of smoking cannabis. The album also included the song "Chalice in the Palace" in which Beckford declares in a satirical manner that he is to visit Queen Elizabeth in Buckingham Palace to engage in the ritual of smoking ganja.
Beckford was preceded by the toasters Count Matchukie, King Stitt and Sir Lord Comic who themselves were influenced by the jive talk of the US disc jockeys that they heard on American radio stations who's broadcasts reached the Caribbean. Beckford was the first toaster to popularize the form through a series of successful releases on the Duke Reid label gaining a wider audience for toasting. This approach to production and the remixing of previously recorded tracks with a new vocal influenced the early hip-hop pioneers. Kool Herc states:
"Hip-hop….the whole chemistry of that came from Jamaica…..In Jamaica all you needed was a drum and a bass. So what I did was go right to the ‘yoke’. I cut off all the anticipation and just played the beats. I’d find out where the break in the record was and prolonged it and people would love it. So I was giving them their own taste and beat percussion wise….cause my music is all about heavy bass."
Considered one of Jamaica's first Deejay stars, "U-Roy raised the art of toasting to new heights. He didn't just spit a few phrases here and there, he rode the riddim from the starting gate to the last furlong". U-Roy working with Duke Reid created a "version" of the Paragons' "Wear You to the Ball" which became the first toast record to make an impact in 1969.
- Version Galore (1970)
- Version Galore Vol 2 (1972)
- U Roy (1974)
- Dread In a Babylon (1975)
- Natty Rebel (1976)
- The Best of U Roy (1976)
- African Roots (1976)
- Rasta Ambassador (1977)
- Jah Son Of Africa (1978)
- With Words of Wisdom (1979)
- The Originator (1980)
- Love Gamble (1980)
- Serious Matter (2000)
- Rightful Ruler - The Best Of U-Roy (2001)
- Pray Fi Di People (2012)
- AllMusic - U-Roy Biography Author: Jo-Ann Greene. Retrieved 11 April 2013.
- Kevin O&Brien Chang; Wayne Chen (1998). Reggae Routes: The Story of Jamaican Music. Temple University Press. pp. 70–. ISBN 978-1-56639-629-5. Retrieved 11 April 2013.
- U-Roy Interview - United Reggae Interviewer: Angus Taylor. Published: 20 December 2012. Retrieved 07 April 2013
- Vladimir Bogdanov (2003). All Music Guide to Hip-Hop: The Definitive Guide to Rap & Hip-Hop. Backbeat Books. pp. 618–. ISBN 978-0-87930-759-2. Retrieved 9 April 2013.
- U-Roy Wakes The Town - Jamaica Gleaner Published 9 May 2010. Interviewer: Mel Cooke. Retrieved 8 April 2013.
- U-Roy Interview - Reggae France Interviewer: Rougeot. Published 22 October 2012. Retrieved 12 April 2013.
- SNWMF site - U-Roy Biography. Retrieved 8 April 2013.
- U-Roy Interview at Jah Works (12 April ?) Retrieved 24 April 2013
- Guardian Newspaper (UK) - Roy Shirley Notice. Published 28 August 2008. Retrieved 03 May 2013.
- Bunny Lee Interview at Reggae Vibes. Article by Peter I (no date given). Retrieved 03 May 2013.
- Nielsen Business Media, Inc. (12 November 1977). Billboard. pp. 59–. ISSN 00062510. Retrieved 23 April 2013.
- Jamaica Gleaner - U-Roy Order of Distinction Award (8 April 2008). Retrieved 6 April 2013.
- Reggae’s Impact on Hip-Hop - Jamie Ann Board (UVM Debate Paper - 17 April 2000). Retrieved 22 April 2013
- Kenner, Rob. Dancehall, In The Vibe History of Hip-hop, ed. Alan Light, 350-7. New York: Three Rivers Press, 1999.
- Smokeyroom's Version Galore
- U-Roy biography at the Allmusic website
- Natty Rebel (1976) Nigerian release at Discogs
- "Joyful Locks" (1975) Bunny Lee production at Discogs