Ewart Beckford OD (21 September 1942 – 17 February 2021),[1] known by the stage name U-Roy, was a Jamaican vocalist and pioneer of toasting.[2][3] U-Roy was known for a melodic style of toasting applied with a highly developed sense of timing.

Background information
Birth nameEwart Beckford
Also known asThe Originator
Hugh Roy
The Teacher
Born(1942-09-21)21 September 1942
Jones Town, Jamaica
Died17 February 2021(2021-02-17) (aged 78)
Kingston, Jamaica
Occupation(s)Singer, songwriter
Years active1961–2021
LabelsTreasure Isle, Duke Reid, Virgin

Early life


Ewart Beckford was born in Jones Town, Saint Andrew Parish, Kingston, Jamaica, on 21 September 1942.[4] He was raised within a religious and musical family; his mother was an organist for the choir at a local Seventh-day Adventist church.[5] The sobriquet U-Roy originated from a younger member of his family who found it difficult to pronounce his first name.[6] Beckford attended Denham Town High School in Kingston.[7] As a young man Beckford listened to the music of Louis Prima, James Brown, Ruth Brown, Fats Domino, Rufus Thomas, Smiley Lewis and was especially influenced by the vocal phrasing of Louis Jordan.[8]



Inspired by Count Matchuki he started his professional career as a Deejay in 1961 on Dickie Wong's sound system (originally called Doctor Dickies later changed to Dickies Dynamic) moving later to the Sir George the Atomic sound system. Beckford then worked on Sir Coxsone Dodd's sound system where he ran the number two set while King Stitt "The Ugly One" ran the main set. This was followed by a period with Sir Percy before he moved to King Tubby's Hometown Hi-Fi sound system.[9] Beckford's first single "Dynamic Fashion Way" (1969) was a Keith Hudson production.[8] It was followed by the Lee "Scratch" Perry production "Earth's Rightful Ruler" with Peter Tosh.[10]

In 1970, Jamaican singer John Holt (lead vocalist of the Paragons) heard Beckford toasting over a Duke Reid track at a dance. Holt told Reid about the performance and on his recommendation Reid asked Beckford to come and see him and an informal recording deal was arranged.[5] Beckford's first two singles released on Duke Reid's Treasure Isle label, "Wake the Town" (1970) and "Wear You to the Ball" (1970), were Jamaican hits and established his reputation as one of Jamaica's most popular toasters. Beckford then went on to work with other major producers on the island including Lee "Scratch" Perry, Bunny Lee, Phil Pratt, Sonia Pottinger, Rupie Edwards, Alvin Ranglin and Lloyd Daley. 1971 saw the release of Beckford's Deejay version of The Paragons' "The Tide Is High". Beckford first toured the UK in 1972 with the artists Roy Shirley and Max Romeo.[11] The tour was organized by Rita and Benny King; the owners of R & B Records based in Stamford Hill, London.[12]

Beckford's album Dread in a Babylon was released in the US, Europe and Jamaica by Virgin Records in 1975.[13] The album achieved significant sales in the UK which was due in part to the ongoing expansion of the Virgin label and stores. The track "Runaway Girl" from the album was released as a single in Europe that same year. The success of Dread in a Babylon led to a series of Tony Robinson produced albums: Natty Rebel (1976), Rasta Ambassador (1977) and Jah Son of Africa (1978).[14] Beckford's international popularity led to the album Natty Rebel being released in 1976 on Virgin's imprint Front Line label in Nigeria as well as in France on Virgin and Polydor.[15][16]

Beckford started his own sound system in 1978, which he named Stur Gav after his sons. The sound system would launch the careers of a younger generation of toasters and singers including Ranking Joe, Jah Screw, Charlie Chaplin and Josey Wales.[5] The pop group Blondie had a world-wide hit with the reggae track "The Tide Is High" in 1980, which prompted Virgin to re-release the original Paragons' track from 1967 and the 1971 U-Roy version as a single that same year.[17] His album Pray Fi Di People was released in 2012.[18][19]

Beckford was featured on the album True Love by Toots and the Maytals, which won the Grammy Award in 2004 for Best Reggae Album, and showcased many notable musicians including Willie Nelson, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Trey Anastasio, Gwen Stefani / No Doubt, Ben Harper, Bonnie Raitt, Manu Chao, The Roots, Ryan Adams, Keith Richards, Toots Hibbert, Paul Douglas, Jackie Jackson, Ken Boothe, and The Skatalites.[20]

Beckford was awarded the Order of Distinction in 2007 by the Jamaican government for his contribution to music.[21]

His last recording was the song "The Coming of Jah Jah" for the project "The Deejay Battle: Sly & Robbie vs Roots Radics" released in April 2023 produced by the Grammy nominated musician and producer Hernan "Don Camel" Sforzini.

U-Roy's music and Rastafari


Rastafari has been a feature of Beckford's lyrics from his earliest singles to his latest album Pray Fi Di People. Beckford's second single "Rightful Ruler" (1969) opens with a profession of Rastafari faith given in the Ethiopian language Amharic:

Kibir amlak (Glory to Jah)
Qedamawi ras fetari (First creator)
Qedamawi iyesus kristos (Holy Jesus Christ)
Lebdama mabrak isad
Tenayistilgn (Greetings)

Beckford's "Joyful Locks" (1975) is a DJ version of Linval Thompson's "Don't Cut Off Your Dreadlocks"; an encouragement to others to keep their dreadlocks and to "let it grow". The original song and Beckford's DJ version both allude to the biblical Samson who as a Nazarite was expected to make certain religious vows including the ritual treatment of his hair as described in Chapter Six of the Book of Numbers:[22]

All the days of the vow of his separation there shall no razor come upon his head: until the days be fulfilled, in the which he separateth himself unto the Lord, he shall be holy, and shall let the locks of the hair of his head grow.



Beckford's death was confirmed on 17 February 2021 when his partner, Marcia Smikle, told the Jamaican newspaper The Gleaner. Trojan Records was also informed about his death. While no cause of death was made public at the time, he suffered from diabetes, hypertension, and problems with his kidneys prior to his death, and had been undergoing surgery at the hospital.[23]



Beckford was preceded by the toasters Count Matchuki, King Stitt and Sir Lord Comic who themselves were influenced by the jive talk of the US disc jockeys that they heard on American radio stations whose broadcasts reached the Caribbean. Beckford was the first toaster to popularize the form through a series of successful releases on the Duke Reid label gaining a wider audience for toasting. This approach to production and the remixing of previously recorded tracks with a new vocal influenced the early hip-hop pioneers.[24] Kool Herc states:

"Hip-hop….the whole chemistry of that came from Jamaica…..In Jamaica all you needed was a drum and a bass. So what I did was go right to the ‘yoke’. I cut off all the anticipation and just played the beats. I’d find out where the break in the record was and prolonged it and people would love it. So I was giving them their own taste and beat percussion wise….cause my music is all about heavy bass."[25]

Many internationally known dancehall deejays have acknowledged U-Roy as an influence on their careers, including Sean Paul and Shabba Ranks.[26]

Album discography

  • Version Galore (1970)[14]
  • Version Galore Vol. 2 (1972)[27]
  • U Roy (1974)[14]
  • Dread in a Babylon (1975) – produced by Prince Tony Robinson[14]
  • Natty Rebel (1976)[14]
  • The Best of U Roy (1976)[14]
  • Right Time Rockers-The Lost Album (1976) [14]
  • African Roots (1976)[28]
  • Rasta Ambassador (1977)[14]
  • Jah Son of Africa (1978)[14]
  • With Words of Wisdom (1979)[14]
  • The Originator (1980)[14]
  • Love Gamble (1980)[28]
  • Line Up and Come (1986)[14]
  • Music Addict (1987) - produced by Prince Jazzbo
  • True Born African (1991) – produced by Mad Professor[14]
  • Smile a While (1993) – produced by Mad Professor[14]
  • Babylon Kingdom Must Fall (1996) – produced by Mad Professor[14]
  • Reggae Live Sessions Vol-1 (1998)[14]
  • Serious Matter (2000)[14]
  • Now (2001) – produced by Guillaume Bougard/Pierre Simonin[14]
  • Rebel in Styylle (2005) – Mediacom[14]
  • Old School/New Rules (2007) – produced by Mad Professor[14]
  • Pray Fi Di People (2012) – produced by Ewart Beckford[14]
  • Talking Roots (2018) – produced by Mad Professor[14]
  • Solid Gold U-Roy (2021) [14]
  • Dread In A Africa U-Roy (2022) Jamaican Art Records
  • The Deejay Battle: Sly & Robbie vs. Roots Radics feat. Big Youth (2023) Serious Reggae


  1. ^ Mason, Peter (23 February 2021). "U-Roy obituary". The Guardian. Retrieved 23 February 2021.
  2. ^ Jo-Ann Greene, U-Roy Biography Archived 26 November 2012 at the Wayback Machine, AllMusic. Retrieved 11 April 2013.
  3. ^ Kevin O&Brien Chang; Wayne Chen (1998). Reggae Routes: The Story of Jamaican Music. Temple University Press. pp. 70–. ISBN 978-1-56639-629-5. Retrieved 11 April 2013.
  4. ^ Genzlinger, Neil (19 February 2021). "U-Roy, Whose 'Toasting' Transformed Jamaican Music, Dies at 78". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Archived from the original on 21 February 2021. Retrieved 21 February 2021.
  5. ^ a b c Angus Taylor, U-Roy Interview Archived 15 January 2013 at the Wayback Machine, United Reggae, 20 December 2012. Retrieved 7 April 2013.
  6. ^ Vladimir Bogdanov (2003). All Music Guide to Hip-Hop: The Definitive Guide to Rap & Hip-Hop. Backbeat Books. pp. 618–. ISBN 978-0-87930-759-2. Archived from the original on 26 June 2014. Retrieved 9 April 2013.
  7. ^ Mel Cooke, "U-Roy Wakes The Town" Archived 2 February 2014 at the Wayback Machine, Jamaica Gleaner, 9 May 2010. Retrieved 8 April 2013.
  8. ^ a b Rougeot. U-Roy Interview Archived 4 April 2013 at the Wayback Machine, Reggae France. Published 22 October 2012. Retrieved 12 April 2013.
  9. ^ SNWMF site – U-Roy Biography Archived 1 May 2013 at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved 8 April 2013.
  10. ^ McCann, Ian; Hawke, Harry (12 December 2011). Bob Marley: The Complete Guide to his Music. Omnibus Press. p. 1975. ISBN 9780857127358. Archived from the original on 21 February 2021. Retrieved 19 February 2021.
  11. ^ Roy Shirley Notice Archived 1 December 2016 at the Wayback Machine. The Guardian (UK), 28 August 2008. Retrieved 3 May 2013.
  12. ^ Peter I, Bunny Lee Interview Archived 3 May 2013 at the Wayback Machine, Reggae Vibes (no date). Retrieved 3 May 2013.
  13. ^ Nielsen Business Media, Inc. (12 November 1977). Billboard. pp. 59–. ISSN 0006-2510. Retrieved 23 April 2013. {{cite book}}: |author= has generic name (help)
  14. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w "Raymond Lévesque – Album Discography". AllMusic. Archived from the original on 13 June 2015. Retrieved 18 February 2021.
  15. ^ "Natty Rebel (U-Roy) – Releases". AllMusic. Archived from the original on 21 February 2021. Retrieved 18 February 2021.
  16. ^ Guerrieri, Massimiliano (18 June 2018). "Quella volta che in Giamaica il Dj afferrò il microfono". la Repubblica. Rome. Archived from the original on 3 December 2019. Retrieved 15 February 2021. (in Italian)
  17. ^ Jones, Peter (22 November 1980). "'Tide' In Again". Billboard. Vol. 97, no. 47. p. 62. ISSN 0006-2510. Archived from the original on 19 September 2020. Retrieved 22 June 2020.
  18. ^ Katz, David (16 October 2012). "Review & Photos: U-Roy in Paris, France 10/16/2012". Reggaeville.com. Archived from the original on 16 November 2019. Retrieved 18 February 2021.
  19. ^ "Pray Fi Di People (U-Roy) – Releases". AllMusic. Retrieved 18 February 2021.
  20. ^ Toots and the Maytals. tootsandthemaytals.net. Web. "In Depth – Linear Notes" Archived 10 November 2016 at archive.today. Retrieved 9 November 2016.
  21. ^ U-Roy Order of Distinction Award Archived 14 January 2009 at the Wayback Machine, Jamaica Gleaner, 8 April 2008. Retrieved 6 April 2013.
  22. ^ Rasta Mahddy (1 August 2014). Reggae Vibe Summer Issue: Reggae Vibe Magazine. Reggae Vibe Magazine. pp. 30–. Archived from the original on 21 February 2021. Retrieved 19 February 2021.
  23. ^ Amorosi, A. D. (19 February 2021). "U-Roy, Influential Reggae Artist, Dies at 78". Variety. Archived from the original on 20 February 2021. Retrieved 20 February 2021.
  24. ^ Genzlinger, Neil (19 February 2021). "U-Roy, Whose 'Toasting' Transformed Jamaican Music, Dies at 78". New York Times. Retrieved 23 February 2021.
  25. ^ Reggae’s Impact on Hip-Hop – Jamie Ann Board (UVM Debate Paper – 17 April 2000). Archived 21 January 2012 at the Wayback Machine Retrieved 22 April 2013
  26. ^ Meschino, Patricia (18 February 2021). "U-Roy, Jamaican Vocalist Who Defined Dancehall And Presaged Hip-Hop, Dies At 78". NPR. Retrieved 23 February 2021.
  27. ^ de Koningh, Michael; Cane–Honeysett, Laurence (19 July 2018). Young, Gifted & Black: The Story of Trojan Records. Omnibus Press. p. 1975. ISBN 9781787591042. Archived from the original on 21 February 2021. Retrieved 19 February 2021.
  28. ^ a b Foster, Chuck (1999). Roots, Rock, Reggae: An Oral History of Reggae Music from Ska to Dancehall. Billboard. p. 329. ISBN 9780823078318. Archived from the original on 21 February 2021. Retrieved 19 February 2021.