Rex Jim Lawson (4 March 1935 – 1971), known as Cardinal Rex, was a singer, trumpeter and bandleader from Kalabari, Nigeria. He became one of the best-known highlife musicians of the 1960s in Africa when Cardinal and his band dominated Nigeria’s highlife scene.
Rex Lawson was born on 4 March 1935 in Kalabari, Nigeria. He was the fourth child to his parents, the others having died of illnesses. At a young age, Lawson was afflicted with a severe case of small pox. While his mother brought him to various medicine men outside of Kalabari for treatment, his father feared he would die and lost interest in raising him. Lawson later sued his father for neglect while he was at school. He won the case, but his father cursed him in return, and the two did not communicate with one another until Lawson began his musical career.
Rex Lawson began his career in Port Harcourt as a bandboy for Lord Eddyson's Starlight Melody Orchestra. He later played with Sammy Obot, Bobby Benson, Victor Olaiya, Chris Ajilo, and other Ghanaian and Nigerian musicians and bands. His greatest success came as the leader of the Majors Band (also called the Rivers Men in later years); their recorded hits include So ala teme, Yellow Sisi, Gowon Special, and Jolly Papa.
A highly emotional and deep musician, Lawson was known to weep and shed tears while singing his own songs on stage, notably the haunting So ala teme. The late Sir Maliki Showman, the famous Nigerian tenor saxophonist who played with Rex Lawson, Bobby Benson and Victor Uwaifo, remembers Lawson as always placing music over money. Lawson is famed for his infectious gregariousness, his musical vision, talent, perseverance and individuality. After his death, the Rivers Men re-established themselves as The Professional Seagulls Dance Band and The Peacocks band.
Lawson died in 1971 in a car accident on his way to play a show in Warri, Nigeria. He was 36 years old. After his death, his band continued as the Professional Seagulls. Lawson was married to Chief (Mrs.) Regina Rex Lawson who died in October 2008.
- Abari Biya (as Rex Lawson)
- Bere Bote (as Cardinal Rex Jim Lawson)
- Owuna Derina (as Cardinal Rex Jim Lawson)
- Nume Inye (as Cardinal Rex Jim Lawson)
- Contributing artist
- The Rough Guide to Highlife (2003, World Music Network)
His music is loved to this day in Nigeria. His songs are regularly performed and danced at live band shows in Nigeria, and a number of young musicians have remixed some of his old hits, and his relevance continues to be felt. His most popular songs were "Love Adure" and "Sawale". The single "Sawale" was a hit all over Africa and has been remixed in various Africa countries like Ethiopia.
His single "Sawale" was remixed by Flavour N'abania to make the popular hit song, "Nwa Baby (Ashawo)".
- Oti 2009, p. 166.
- Collins (1985), p. 51.
- "PMAN mourns death of Rex-Lawson's wife". NigeriaFilms.com. 25 October 2008.