- Genres: Reggae
BiographyTrombone master Don Drummond was among the seminal figures behind the evolution of ska -- a founding member of the legendary Skatalites, he was the genre's most prolific composer, with well over 300 songs to his name before his brief career ended in tragedy. Even prior to the birth of ska, Drummond was already regarded as something of a Jamaican legend for his jazz prowess; as a teacher at West Kingston's Alpha Boys School, he also mentored up-and-comers including Tommy McCook, Rico Rodriguez, Vernon Muller, Joe Harriott, and Vincent Gordon. Beginning his studio career in 1956, he primarily cut specials, recordings originally designed strictly for sound system play; in 1959, however, these specials began receiving proper commercial release in both Jamaica and England. As a result, Drummond's star ascended even higher, and under the direction of producer Coxsone Dodd, he composed and arranged hundreds of classic ska recordings for both Studio One and Treasure Isle.
Drummond's genius did not come without a price, however -- a notoriously eccentric man who suffered from bouts of manic depression, his erratic behavior earned him the nickname "Don Cosmic" from Dodd, and it was a moniker he rarely failed to live up to. Still, when Studio One musical director Jackie Mittoo set about assembling the Skatalites in 1964, he did not hesitate to bring Drummond aboard, and he quickly emerged among the group's creative and spiritual leaders. The quintessential ska band of their time, the Skatalites had an influence that was incalculable -- their 1964 debut, Ska Authentic, ruled Jamaican airwaves throughout the year, and in addition to leading sessions with all of the island's top solo artists, they also helped launch the careers of newcomers including Delroy Wilson, the Wailers, Lee "Scratch" Perry, and Ken Boothe. Drummond's composition "Man in the Street" earned the group a Top Ten U.K. hit later in 1964, and a year later his adaptation of the theme to the film The Guns of Navarone duplicated the feat.
By that time, however, the Skatalites were no more, their demise brought about by the beginning of Drummond's own tragic downfall -- on New Year's Day of 1965, he was arrested for the murder of his girlfriend, exotic dancer Marguerita Mahfood. Her body was found in his home, the victim of multiple stab wounds; after a brief investigation, Drummond was deemed legally insane, and committed indefinitely to Bellevue Hospital. He died there on May 6, 1969, at the age of 37 -- although officially explained as a suicide, there was no official autopsy, and rumors about his death continue to swirl to this day. According to research uncovered by Bob Timm of the Ska Mining Company, at the memorial service Supersonics drummer Hugh Malcolm ripped up the death certificate, charging the hospital staff with murder and calling Drummond a victim of the government authorities who regularly targeted Kingston area performers; others claimed Drummond was slain by mobsters in cahoots with the family of Marguerita Mahfood. In any case, his death was the true end of an era, but his influence lives on. ~ Jason Ankeny, Rovi
12 March 1932|
|Died||May 6, 1969
|Associated acts||The Skatalites|
Drummond was born at the Jubilee Hospital in Kingston, Jamaica, to Doris Monroe and Uriah Drummond. He was educated at Kingston's Alpha Boys School, where he later taught his younger schoolmate Rico Rodriguez to play the trombone.
His musical career began in 1950 with the Eric Dean's All-Stars. He continued into the 1960s with others, including Kenny Williams.
With the birth of ska Don joined The Skatalites. With Drummond's politicized conversion to the Rastafari movement, other band members followed his lead. He became a household name in Jamaica, before suffering mental problems. He was rated by pianist George Shearing to be among the world's top five trombone players.
In 1965 Drummond was convicted of the murder of his longtime girlfriend, Anita "Marguerita" Mahfood, an exotic rhumba dancer and singer, on 1 January 1965. He was imprisoned at Belle Vue Asylum, Kingston, where he remained until his death four years later. The official cause of death was "natural causes", possibly heart failure caused by malnutrition or improper medication, but other theories were put forward; some of his colleagues believed it was a government plot against the Kingston musical scene, and some believed that he was killed by gangsters as revenge for the murder of Mahfood.
- Walker, Klive (2005). Dubwise: reasoning from the reggae underground. Insomniac Press. ISBN 1-894663-96-9. (online at Google Book Search)
- Cane-Honeysett, L: Don Drummond Memorial Album, liner notes. Trojan, 2009.
- Other sources such as Larkin, Colin (2005): The Virgin Encyclopedia of Reggae, Virgin. ISBN 0-7535-0242-9 or Gary Lewis on studiowon.com state his year of birth as 1943.
- Allmusic.com biography for Rico Rodriguez
- Porter, Darwin & Danforth Prince (2006). Frommer's Jamaica, Edition 4 (Illustrated). London: Frommer's. p. 262. ISBN 0-471-94614-1, ISBN 978-0-471-94614-4.
- Timm, Bob (22 August 1997). "Was Don Drummond Murdered?". about.com. Archived from the original on 28 April 2005. http://web.archive.org/web/20050428015640/http://ska.miningco.com/library/weekly/aa082297.htm. Retrieved 12 March 2010.
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