Theophilus Beckford

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Theophilus Beckford
Born 1935
Trench Town, Kingston, Jamaica
Origin Kingston, Jamaica
Died 19 February 2001 (aged 65)
Genres Calypso, rhythm & blues, ska, reggae
Instruments Piano
Years active Mid-1950s–2001
Labels King Pioneer

Theophilus Beckford (1935 – 19 February 2001) was a Jamaican pianist and one of the pioneers of Jamaican popular music during the transition from rhythm 'n' blues to Jamaican ska.

Biography[edit]

Beckford was born in 1935 in Trench Town, Kingston, Jamaica, the second of three sons.[1][2] He learned to play piano at the Boys' Town home for indigent boys in west Kingston, initially inspired by Rosco Gordon and Fats Domino,[2] and on leaving bought a piano and began working with producer Stanley Motta, backing local calypsonians.[3] His piano playing helped to define the sound and feel of ska music, as distinct from Jamaican rhythm & blues in the late 1950s.[1] He had a huge hit in 1959 with "Easy Snappin", recorded in 1956 and played at dances by producer Coxsone Dodd before he released it three years later on his Worldisc label.[1] The single was a number one in Jamaica and stayed on the chart for eighteen months, also selling well in the United Kingdom, and the emphasis on the off-beat was widely imitated.[1][3] The song is considered a forerunner of ska.[3] Although Beckford was credited as the writer, he received no royalties from the song.[3] A second hit followed with "Jack & Jill Shuffle", and a few more singles were recorded for Dodd before Beckford formed his own King Pioneer label in the early 1960s.[1][3]

The bulk of Beckford's recorded work is as a session musician with bands such as Clue J & His Blues Blasters, and he recorded extensively for both Dodd and Duke Reid in this capacity, as well as for Prince Buster, Leslie Kong, and Clancy Eccles.[1]

In 1975, he played piano on Junior Byles' classic song "Fade Away", and in 1978 he appeared as himself in the film Rockers.[3]

In 1991, Beckford performed as part of the Studio One The Beat Goes On: 35 years in the Business shows at the National Arena in Kingston.[1]

In 1992, "Easy Snappin'" was used in a television commercial for jeans, but again, Beckford received no royalties.[3] Although he performed on hundreds of popular records, the lack of financial reward received by Beckford was a constant complaint, as he said in 2000: "Today as I listen to music on radio and sound system and recognise that I created some of these tunes. I feel strongly that I am not given full recognition for my work".[4]

Beckford died on 19 February 2001 as a result of injuries sustained from a machete wound to the head after an argument with a neighbour in the Washington Gardens area of Kingston.[3] He left nine children.[3]

Albums[edit]

  • Trench Town Ska (1999) Jamaican Gold
  • Trojan Battlefield: King Pioneer Ska Productions (2004) Trojan

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f g Larkin, Colin (1998) The Virgin Encyclopedia of Reggae, Virgin Books, ISBN 0-7535-0242-9, p.22
  2. ^ a b Katz, David (2001) "Theophilus Beckford", The Guardian, 19 March 2001
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i Campbell, Howard (2003) "Remembering Theophilus Beckford... the man they called Snappin'", Jamaica Observer, 10 August 2003
  4. ^ Wilson, Claude (2000) "Where Are They Now?", Jamaica Gleaner, 3 September 2000