Reggae Pioneers Black Uhuru at The Howard Theatre
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The last date listed for Black Uhuru was Saturday November 16, 2013 / 11:00pm.
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Black Uhuru are a Jamaican reggae group formed in the Waterhouse district of Kingston Jamaica in 1972, initially as Uhuru (Swahili for ‘freedom’). Over the years, despite several line-up changes, Black Uhuru has released many successful albums and remained one of the most important reggae artists in the world.
Derrick “Duckie” Simpson, Garth Dennis, and Don Carlos started the group in the early seventies. Subsequently, Carlos left to pursue a solo career, as did Dennis to join The Wailing Souls. Simpson formed a new version of Uhuru with Errol Nelson (of The Jayes) and Michael Rose, taking the name Black Sounds Uhuru. Their Prince Jammy-produced debut album, Love Crisis, was released in 1977. Nelson returned to The Jayes in late 1977, and was replaced the following year by Sandra “Puma” Jones, a social worker from South Carolina USA, and the band now took on their most familiar name, Black Uhuru.
Black Uhuru began working extensively with Sly & Robbie, and recorded a string of successful singles, including “General Penitentiary”, “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner”, and “Shine Eye Gal”, which featured guest guitarist Keith Richards. The group’s second album Showcase drew on these singles, and the band cemented their status with a performance at the 1980 Reggae Sunsplash festival. They were signed by Island Records in 1980, who issued the Sinsemilla album to an international audience in 1981. The follow-up, Red, reached number 28 in the UK Albums Chart in 1981, Chill Out reached number 38 a year later, and they toured with The Rolling Stones. In 1989, their album Red was ranked #23 on Rolling Stone Magazine’s list of the 100 Greatest albums of the 1980’s. Their next studio album, Anthem, appeared in 1984, and won the first ever Grammy Award for Best Reggae Album the following year. They also had their most successful UK multiples that year with “What is Life?” which reached number 1 in the UK Singles Chart.
Despite this success, Rose left the group to resume his solo career and was replaced by Junior Reid. They signed to RAS Records and released the album Brutal and the single “The Great Train Robbery”. Brutal was nominated for a Grammy and “The Great Train Robbery” gave them their second UK hit single, reaching number 62. Ultimately, Jones left the band due to ill health (she died in 1990 from cancer). Her replacement was Janet “Olafunke” Reid, and the group returned in 1988 with the Positive album.
In 1990, Black Uhuru briefly reunited the original line-up with Duckie Simpson, Don Carlos and Garth Dennis, and The Now album followed in 1991, and was also nominated for a Grammy. Shortly thereafter, a legal battle over the name followed, won by Duckie Simpson in 1997. Don Carlos resumed his solo career, Garth Dennis resumed working with Wailing Souls, and Duckie Simpson formed a new line-up of Black Uhuru with Andrew Bees – another talented singer from the Waterhouse district of Kingston – and Kay Starr, releasing the album, Dynasty, in 2001 to critical acclaim.
From 2001 to the present, Black Uhuru has toured around the world with vocalists Duckie Simpson, Andrew Bees, and Kay Starr being joined by stellar musicians onstage (often including Sly & Robbie as the rhythm section) for memorable and critically acclaimed performances. Black Uhuru are currently planning the release of their newest album on which Duckie Simpson, Andrew Bees, and Kay Starr will continue the sound that has defined the group while also exploring new musical ground. Rumors coming out of Kingston indicate that the new record contains some of the group’s best material to date.
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