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Artist Hall of Fame

Black UhuruText by Harry Hawks

At a time when vocal harmonising was neither profitable nor fashionable Black Uhuru carried their sound and the message of freedom from Kingston’s Waterhouse ghetto to the international stage.
Date Added: Dec 13, 2012, Date Updated: Sep 26, 2018 Copyright (C) 2019 Dub Store Sound Inc.
Members:Ducky Simpson
Garth Dennis
Don Carlos
Michael Rose
Puma Jones
Junior Reid
1974 -
Place of Establishment: Waterhouse
Kingston
Jamaica
Related Artist(s):
Don Carlos
Michael Rose
Junior Reid
The long established Jamaican tradition of close harmony vocals provided the heartbeat of the island's music for many years but, by the close of the seventies, the reggae audience's fascination with dub, deejays and dance hall unfortunately meant that it was no longer perceived to be sufficiently adventurous. However, in direct contradiction to the prevailing styles and fashions, a number of notable exceptions continued to carry the torch for harmony singing and one group in particular, Black Uhuru, achieved worldwide recognition.

The original Black Uhuru (Uhuru is Swahili for freedom) came together in 1974 from a distinguished Waterhouse vocal group lineage that included The Royals, The Jayes and The Mighty Travellers. After endlessly practising and perfecting their art singing together in the yards of Kingston 11 the trio of Derek 'Duckie' Simpson, Don Carlos and Rudolph 'Garth' Dennis went on to tread the dispiriting round of Kingston's record producers. Their superb 'Going To Zion', recorded for Clive Chin at Randys, was not released until many years later although Tommy Cowan did release their beautiful version of Curtis Mayfield's 'Romancing To The Folk Song' on Dynamic's Top Cat label as 'Folk Song' by Uhuru but the record was not a hit.

Don Carlos then decided to move on to a solo career and Garth Dennis joined the Wailing Souls but, undeterred, Duckie recruited Errol Nelson, who had previously sung with The Jayes, and a new lead singer Michael Rose. Michael's career as a solo artist had included working for Winston 'Niney The Observer' Holness(Winston 'Niney' Holness) on 'Guess Who's Coming To Dinner', 'Observe Life' for Dickie Wong's Tit For Tat label and the classic 'Born Free' for UK sound system veteran Ken 'The Mighty Fatman' Gordon in collaboration with Prince Jammy(Lloyd James) and Vivian 'Yabby You' Jackson(Vivian Jackson). Staying true to their Waterhouse roots the new incarnation of Black Uhuru went to Prince Jammy who was then working at King Tubby's Dromilly Avenue recording studio as resident engineer but was also in the process of establishing his own record label. Jammy recorded an entire album's worth of material with the new incarnation of Black Uhuru and 'Love Crisis', released in 1977 on Jammy's own label in Jamaica and in the UK on Count Shelley's Third World outlet, heralded the arrival of a formidable new force in reggae music. The album was not only the foundation stone of Black Uhuru's career but also a crucial stepping stone.

Errol Nelson then returned to The Jayes and was replaced by a former social worker from South Carolina, USA named Sandra 'Puma' Jones who had worked as a dancer with Ras Michael & The Sons Of Negus. Her ethereal harmonies added an entirely new dimension to the group's music and a series of incredibly popular hit singles on Sly & Robbie's Taxi label followed: 'Abortion', 'General Penitentiary', 'Shine Eye Gal' and a new version of Michael's 'Guess Who's Coming To Dinner' which featured Keith Richards from The Rolling Stones on lead guitar. An album, 'Showcase', was released in the UK on the D-Roy label with the vocal tracks segued together with dub workouts of Sly & Robbie's powerhouse rhythms. This seminal album was later released on Taxi in Jamaica, Virgin in the UK and Heartbeat in the USA. Their appearance at 1980's Reggae Sunsplash in Ocho Rios proved to be another career catalyst and Black Uhuru were signed to Chris Blackwell's Island Records that same year.

The group had recorded two singles for Dennis Brown's DEB label, 'Rent Man' and the haunting 'Wood For My Fire', which further heightened their profile. They returned to work with Sly & Robbie as producers and musicians for their first Island album 'Sinsemilla' (aka 'Stalk Of Sensimillia) and the follow up 'Red' which Island released the following year, with initial copies on red vinyl, which reached Number 28 on the UK Albums Chart. Their live appearances, backed by Sly & Robbie, were a triumph and they toured internationally with The Rolling Stones in 1981. That same year 'Love Crisis' was remixed by Jammy and released on Greensleeves Records as 'Black Sounds Of Freedom' and their debut set reached a far wider audience second time around. The group continued to tour and record and their 'Anthem' album from 1985, which included the hit single 'What Is Life', won the first ever Grammy Award for Best Reggae Album.

"Over the course of their first five albums they pursued a course of uncompromising roots music that also transcended most of the genre's limitations." Steve Barrow & Peter Dalton

In 1986 Delroy 'Junior Reid', who had begun his career singing for Augustus Pablo in the seventies, replaced Michael Rose as lead singer and the band hit again with 'Fit You Haffe Fit' on Taxi. They then signed to RAS (Real Authentic Sound) Records in the USA who employed Arthur Baker to produce 'Great Train Robbery' which was included on 'Brutal' their first album release for the company. This track was a minor hit and later appeared on the infamous 'Grand Theft Auto' soundtrack. However the group's move towards dance hall and away from their foundation sound gradually began to alienate their roots reggae audience. Puma left the group due to ill health, and was replaced by Janet 'Olafunke' Reid, but Puma's health continued to deteriorate and she died of cancer in 1990. Junior left in 1988 and Duckie continued working with various line ups over the ensuing years, including a period when he again sang with original members Don Carlos and Garth Dennis, and he was re-united with Michael Rose in 2004 as 'Black Uhuru featuring Michael Rose'.

"Unfortunately the most dynamic and progressive reggae act of the late seventies/early eighties were simply too militant in their poses and music to quite fill the international reggae superstar slot left vacant by the death of Bob Marley despite having three excellent albums given international distribution by Island/Mango as well as a compilation of their first hits with Sly & Robbie released on Virgin (and then the US Heartbeat label)." Steve Barrow & Peter Dalton

There can be no arguing that Black Uhuru's distaste for compromise meant that consistent crossover success always proved elusive for the group yet it is these same qualities that have ensured their lasting status with the reggae cognoscenti with whom their name will be forever revered as one of the most talented, important and influential vocal groups to ever come out of Jamaica.

Sources: Steve Barrow & Peter Dalton: Reggae The Rough Guide Rough Guides Ltd. 1997
Dec 13, 2012 (Sep 26, 2018 Update) Text by Harry Hawks
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Hit titles
Black Uhuru - Black Sounds Of Freedom + Love Crisis
CD Black Uhuru - Black Sounds Of Freedom + Love Crisis Greensleeves UK
  
¥2580 (US$23.05)
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Black Uhuru - 20 Greatest Hits
CD Black Uhuru - 20 Greatest Hits Sonic Sounds US
  
¥1780 (US$15.90)
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Black Uhuru - Guess Who's Coming To Dinner
CD Black Uhuru - Guess Who's Coming To Dinner Heartbeat US
  
¥3880 (US$34.66)
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Black Uhuru - Black Sounds Of Freedom
CD Black Uhuru - Black Sounds Of Freedom Artists Only US
¥1580 (US$14.11)
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Black Uhuru - Best Of: Millennium Collection 20th Century Masters
CD Black Uhuru - Best Of: Millennium Collection 20th Century Masters Island UK
  
¥2180 (US$19.47)
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Black Uhuru - Sinsemilla (1980) (Remastered, 2 Bonus Tracks)
CD Black Uhuru - Sinsemilla (1980) (Remastered, 2 Bonus Tracks) Mango US
  
¥1980 ¥1689 (US$15.09)
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Black Uhuru - Black Sounds Of Freedom (1981)
CD Black Uhuru - Black Sounds Of Freedom (1981) Shanachie US
  
¥2380 (US$21.26)
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Black Uhuru - Tear It Up: Live
CD Black Uhuru - Tear It Up: Live Island US
¥1980 (US$17.69)
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Black Uhuru - In Dub (Dubs from 'Black Sounds Of Freedom') (1982)
CD Black Uhuru - In Dub (Dubs from 'Black Sounds Of Freedom') (1982) Dressed To Kill UK Info: Deleted
  
¥1580 (US$14.11)
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Black Uhuru - Chill Out
CD Black Uhuru - Chill Out Mango US
  
¥2180 (US$19.47)
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Black Uhuru, Byron Lee - Twin Pack (2CD)
CD Black Uhuru, Byron Lee - Twin Pack (2CD) Dressed To Kill UK
¥1480 (US$13.22)
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Black Uhuru - Dub Factor (Remastered, 3 Bonus Tracks)
CD Black Uhuru - Dub Factor (Remastered, 3 Bonus Tracks) Island UK
  
¥2080 ¥1880 (US$16.79)
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Black Uhuru - Live In Chicago 1984 With Sly & Robbie
CD Black Uhuru - Live In Chicago 1984 With Sly & Robbie Taxi US
  
¥1980 (US$17.69)
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Black Uhuru - Brutal
CD Black Uhuru - Brutal RAS US
  
¥2480 (US$22.15)
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Black Uhuru - Love Dub
CD Black Uhuru - Love Dub Culture Press EU
  
¥1880 (US$16.79)
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Black Uhuru - Unification
CD Black Uhuru - Unification Five Star General US
  
¥1580 (US$14.11)
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Midnite, Black Uhuru, Richie Spice, Luciano - Defender Of The Faith
CD Midnite, Black Uhuru, Richie Spice, Luciano - Defender Of The Faith Rastar US
  
¥2280 (US$20.37)
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Carlton Manning, Dennis Brown, Leroy Sibbles, Black Uhuru - 4 Star: Show Case
LP Carlton Manning, Dennis Brown, Leroy Sibbles, Black Uhuru - 4 Star: Show Case Rads Records UK
¥2180 (US$19.47)
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Black Uhuru - Show Case (Guess Who's Coming To Dinner)
LP Black Uhuru - Show Case (Guess Who's Coming To Dinner) Taxi
  
¥1480 (US$13.22)
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Black Uhuru - Sinsemilla (slight Jacket Damage)
LP Black Uhuru - Sinsemilla (slight Jacket Damage) Taxi
¥2480 (US$22.15)
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Black Uhuru - Red
LP Black Uhuru - Red Island
  
¥1580 (US$14.11)
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Black Uhuru - Tear It Up: Live
LP Black Uhuru - Tear It Up: Live Black Uhuru
  
¥1580 ¥999 (US$8.92)
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Black Uhuru - Black Sounds Of Freedom
LP Black Uhuru - Black Sounds Of Freedom Greensleeves UK
  
¥3180 (US$28.41)
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Black Uhuru - Chill Out
LP Black Uhuru - Chill Out Taxi
  
¥1880 ¥1580 (US$14.11)
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Black Uhuru - Dub Factor
LP Black Uhuru - Dub Factor Island
¥1480 (US$13.22)
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Black Uhuru - Anthem
LP Black Uhuru - Anthem Island
  
¥2480 (US$22.15)
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Black Uhuru - Brutal
LP Black Uhuru - Brutal Taxi/Thunder Bolt Info: Deleted
  
¥1980 (US$17.69)
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Black Uhuru - Brutal + Brutal Dub (2LP) (180g)
LP Black Uhuru - Brutal + Brutal Dub (2LP) (180g) Earmark UK/RAS UK
¥3480 (US$31.09)
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Black Uhuru - Positive
LP Black Uhuru - Positive RAS
  
¥1580 (US$14.11)
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Black Uhuru - Now
LP Black Uhuru - Now Mesa
  
¥2080 (US$18.58)
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Black Uhuru - Rent Man
12" Black Uhuru - Rent Man DEB UK
  
¥2380 (US$21.26)
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Black Uhuru; Jah Grundy - Rent Man; Resident Area
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¥2080 (US$18.58)
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Black Uhuru - Times To Unite
10" Black Uhuru - Times To Unite Jammys Gold UK Jah Love Is Sweeter
¥1420 (US$12.68)
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Black Uhuru - Hard Times
10" Black Uhuru - Hard Times Jammys Gold UK
¥1680 (US$15.01)
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Wayne Smith - Time Is A Moment; Dub
10" Wayne Smith - Time Is A Moment; Dub / Black Uhuru - Sorry For The Man; Dub Jammys Gold UK
  
¥1480 (US$13.22)
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Black Uhuru - I Love King Selassie; Dub
10" Black Uhuru - I Love King Selassie; Dub / Sugar Minott - Give The People What They Want Jammys Gold UK
¥1780 (US$15.90)
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Black Uhuru - Wood For My Fire (Coloured Vinyl)
7" Black Uhuru - Wood For My Fire (Coloured Vinyl) Emmanuel Music UK
  
¥900 (US$8.04)
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Black Uhuru - Rent Man
7" Black Uhuru - Rent Man Joe Gibbs
  
¥700 (US$6.25)
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Black Uhuru - Rent Man
7" Black Uhuru - Rent Man Emmanuel Music UK
  
¥1000 (US$8.93)
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Black Uhuru - Shine Eye
7" Black Uhuru - Shine Eye Taxi
  
¥900 (US$8.04)
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Johnny Osbourne - Fally Ranking
7" Johnny Osbourne - Fally Ranking / Black Uhuru - I Love King Selassie Greensleeves UK B: I Love King Selassie
  
¥1280 (US$11.43)
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Black Uhuru - Guess Who Is Coming To Dinner
7" Black Uhuru - Guess Who Is Coming To Dinner Taxi
  
¥700 (US$6.25)
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Black Uhuru - Happiness
7" Black Uhuru - Happiness Taxi
  
¥600 (US$5.36)
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Black Uhuru - Party Next Door
7" Black Uhuru - Party Next Door Sonic Sounds Party Next Door
  
¥800 (US$7.15)
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Black Uhuru, Hammer Mouth - I Love Selassie
7" Black Uhuru, Hammer Mouth - I Love Selassie Jammys King Selassie
¥570 (US$5.09)
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Black Uhuru - My King Forever
7" Black Uhuru - My King Forever Jammys King Selassie
¥570 (US$5.09)
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Black Uhuru - I Love King Selassie
7" Black Uhuru - I Love King Selassie Jammys King Selassie
  
¥700 (US$6.25)
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Black Uhuru - Fire House
7" Black Uhuru - Fire House Jammys Things & Time
  
¥570 ¥399 (US$3.56)
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Black Uhuru - Five Star General
7" Black Uhuru - Five Star General King Jammys Badda Badda
  
¥600 (US$5.36)
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Black Uhuru - It Ago Red
7" Black Uhuru - It Ago Red Mentally Disturbed
  
¥570 ¥299 (US$2.67)
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Black Uhuru - Dollars
7" Black Uhuru - Dollars Harmony House
  
¥570 ¥499 (US$4.46)
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Black Uhuru - Scorching Bay
7" Black Uhuru - Scorching Bay Rastar Red Alert
  
¥570 ¥299 (US$2.67)
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Recent arrival(s)
Black Uhuru - Party Next Door
7" Black Uhuru - Party Next Door Taxi (Org)
  
¥1980 (US$17.69)
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Best selling CD(s)
Black Uhuru - Black Sounds Of Freedom: Greensleeves Deluxe Edition (2CD) (Black Sounds Of Freedom + Uhuru In Dub +
CD Black Uhuru - Black Sounds Of Freedom: Greensleeves Deluxe Edition (2CD) (Black Sounds Of Freedom + Uhuru In Dub + Greensleeves UK
  
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Black Uhuru - Dub Factor (Remastered, 3 Bonus Tracks)
CD Black Uhuru - Dub Factor (Remastered, 3 Bonus Tracks) Island UK
  
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Best selling 10/12"(s)
Black Uhuru - Sensimelia (Extended Mix)
12" Black Uhuru - Sensimelia (Extended Mix) / Sly & Robbie, Revolutionaries - Sensimelia Sly Dub; Sensimelia Robbie Dub Taxi UK
  
¥2480 (US$22.15)
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Black Uhuru - Guess Who Is Coming To Dinner (Extended Mix)
12" Black Uhuru - Guess Who Is Coming To Dinner (Extended Mix) Taxi UK
  
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Black Uhuru - General Penitentiary (Extended Mix)
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Black Uhuru - Plastic Smile (Extended Mix)
12" Black Uhuru - Plastic Smile (Extended Mix) Taxi UK
  
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Black Uhuru - Sun Is Shinning; Jamaica Sunshine Dub
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Best selling 7"(s)
Black Uhuru, Chronixx - I Love King Selassie
7" Black Uhuru, Chronixx - I Love King Selassie Jammys/Dub Store Records JPN I Love King Selassie
   Sampling one of the greatest classics Black Uhuru left for Jammy’s, the remarkable roots revival tune is finally out on vinyl. Dominating the recent rasta revival movement, Cronixx sings freely bringing new life to the rhythm with his strong message. Representing the excellent side of reggae music of taking lessons from the past.
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