‘What a man!’
Tributes pour in for Denroy Morgan at ‘Celebration of Life’ event
Dressed in white and gold, the family of late reggae pioneer Denroy Morgan resembled a large choir of angels as they serenaded their father with his 1981 classic, I’ll Do Anything For You. The moment, captured at the National Indoor Sports Centre on Friday, saw Morgan Heritage taking the lead with Una on the chorus, before inviting their extensive family to join them on stage to hug, dance, and celebrate the life of their patriarch.
The scene was almost the same three hours prior when the body of Ras Denroy arrived with the groovy song pumping through speakers, and the family dancing and recording his arrival, embodying the ceremony’s ‘Celebration of Life’ theme. The atmosphere complemented the singer’s attitude during his final days, supported by a voice note played by his son Peter.
“I’m not dying, I’m transitioning,” Morgan’s voice, faint, yet resilient, could be heard in the recording.
Yet, there were understandably emotional moments. When Peter called on his brother Gramps to sing People Like You, the latter asked attendees for help “because it play a ‘Butch’ Stewart funeral and Glen Browne and all our great Jamaicans, and now mi haffi sing it a mi fada funeral”.
For a brief moment, Peter rested his chin on his brother’s shoulder as his voice broke up while he sang, but with the encouragement and standing ovation from the audience, he championed through.
Beyond singing some songs from their catalogue, the group took the time to share stories of their father, like Peter sharing how when their dad grew tired of America and decided to return to Jamaica in 1994, they came along.
“We nuh know nothing ‘bout Jamaica but wah we learn at home, but we seh ‘daddy anywhere you a go, we a go with you, so we came to Jamaica and that’s where Morgan Heritage got our start. Jamaica accepted us and then the world accepted us, so we want to say thank you to Jamaica for loving and accepting the Morgan family.”
Family was a recurring theme throughout the event with Gramps introducing “all the faces you don’t see” while they were on stage. He revealed that their brother Laza Morgan was absent as he was preparing their father’s final resting place in St Thomas.
When asked by emcee Dr Dennis Howard to describe Morgan in one word, his wife, Hyacynth, said “What a man.” Other family members belted phenomenal, hard-working, wise, righteous, caring and trailblazer.
Indeed, Morgan was a trailblazer, being the first Jamaican artiste to be signed to a major American label (RCA), and also making his acting debut on The Cosby Show in the 80s. He also paved the way for his offspring’s groups including Morgan Heritage and LMS, as well as the East Fest music event.
Tributes hailed from several people in the music industry including former RCA director of A&R Tony Wells who recalled signing Morgan in 1981.
“There’ll never be another Denroy Morgan,” he said. “His fame, his music, his stature is known the world over. We have to thank God that.”
Performers including Dean Fraser, Sheldon Palmer, Nyahbinghi Drummers, Bongo Herman and Bushman also gave musical tributes. The latter referred to Morgan as a father figure.
“I want people to remember him as a head of the family who pulls the youth in the right direction and I hope every family man can take a page from Denroy Morgan’s book cause I have learnt a lot from him: how to keep my family together, how to keep my family thinking positive and conscious, and be successful in any and every way,” Bushman told The Sunday Gleaner.
Morgan was also hailed as a revolutionary in Rastafari, with Mutabaruka commending him for championing the international birthday celebration of Emperor Haile Selassie. He also paid tribute to him by way of the poem ‘I am the Man’.
PLEASED WITH PROCEEDINGS
As the event culminated, Mr Mojo, the son who broke the news of their father’s passing on March 3, told The Sunday Gleaner that the family was pleased with the proceedings.
“It was beautiful,” he said. “We have to thank Minister Olivia ‘Babsy’ Grange, the prime minister, Sister Bridget from the Twelve Tribes of Israel organisation, JCDC, all the different organisations that really made our family see that Jamaica values our father beyond his music, but for his contribution to the culture and the history of this beautiful country we come from.”
With Gramps saying that their father’s ascension signals that the journey has just begun, Mr Mojo added, “The future looks like the legacy will never die. Our father, the Honourable Bishop Ras Denroy Morgan has laid the foundation for I and I to build upon, so we are grateful.”
Born in May Pen, Clarendon, Morgan migrated to the United States in 1965 at the age of 19. He was part of the formation of the Black Eagles, a New York City reggae band in the 1970s, a period during which he also had a spiritual calling that inspired him to become a member of the Twelve Tribes of Israel Rastafari group. He launched a prosperous solo career in the 1980s onwards, and subsequently raised a large family and made the parish of St Thomas his home in Jamaica.
In 2017, he received the Key to the City of Brooklyn, New York. Last year, Morgan released his first book, From the Cross to the Throne, a novel that explores Rastafari, the religion, and Rasta ‘livity’. He established his own Abrahamic Covenant Family Ministry, which goes live on Facebook every Saturday from his Hilltop Tabernacle in Port Morant, St Thomas. His album, Divine Destiny, which is produced by Courtney Mellers, is slated for release on April 22.
He is survived by his widow, 30 children, 105 grandchildren and 21 great-grandchildren.