“In The Reggae Studio” is one series on the Reggae Month events calendar highlighting the lives of practitioners. For this episode, the team sat with King Yellowman to ask about his career in the reggae industry. Yellowman was named Winston Foster after his birth in 1956.
“A born in a house, not a hospital”, started Yellowman, who described his childhood days as very hard. Not knowing his parents, Yellowman’s first knowledge of ‘home’ was at the Maxfield Park Children’s Home upon placement as an orphan. The reggae icon shared that the guardians at Maxfield Park Children’s home shared the story of his rescue from a garbage bin and taken to the home after that. Growing up in the children home was not all bad, he explained, since so many other children surrounded him. Describing the not so good experiences in the home, he said, “Most of the children dem became my friend, and when parents come to adopt them, and they leave me alone there, it gives me a bad feeling.”
Yellowman Discovers His Talent for Music
The reggae icon moved from one children’s home to another. He shared, “After leaving Maxfield Park Children Home, I went to another orphanage home, Swift-Purcell, in Highgate St. Mary (another approved school). From there, I go to Alpha Boys’ School. And from the Alpha Boys’ Home to Eventide Home.” While living at Eventide Home, he began developing a love for music.
The year was 1979 when Yellowman performed at Tastee Talent Competition. The performance would be Yellowman’s first major concert, and he successfully placed fourth. That year current household names such as Nadine Sutherland and Paul Blake entered the competition.
Journey To Develop A Music Career
During the journey to develop his music career as a singer, DJ and entertainer, Yellowman would go to several studios. “I used to go to the studio. Joe Gibbs, Channel One. The producers at the studio would turn him away. In light of this, Yellowman decided to enter the Tastee contest since this would bring him the attention needed to grow his career. The strategy worked as it “gave me a big boost, fi mek Producers start to come around.” He attracted the attention of big producers such as Gussie Clarke, Dynamic Sounds, George Pang, Henry ‘Junjo’ Laws and Randy’s (VP Records).
Through collaborations with local producers, such as the few named above, Yellowman released significant hits. Some of the more notable hits are “You Wrong To Send Come Call Me”, “Over Me”, “Eventide Fire”, and “I’m Getting Married”, to name a few. The velocity of Yellowman’s successful releases made him a household name. He became the most celebrated DJ at that time.
It’s important to remember, Yellowman was the first Dancehall musician to sign with a big American label (Columbia Records). His debut album, Mister Yellowman, was released in 1982, followed by Zungguzungguguzungguzeng in 1983, an immediate hit. Upon signing with Columbia Records (now Sony Entertainment) in the 1980s, Yellowman began to see opportunities for an international career. He cited the reason for his music being ‘everlasting’ resulting from appealing to the feelings and thoughts of other people, which he infuses in his music.
Encouragement To Younger Artists
Yellowman believes that his popularity is most significant in Europe, the United States, Japan and Brazil. The largest concerts he’s performed at includes a 1982 concert held in London. Whereas in Jamaica, it has been Reggae Sunsplash.
The veteran artist had some nuggets for the younger artists. “You can’t hype on your own people, meaning your fans. They are the ones that buy your record and put you where you are.” Therefore, artists can never ignore and treat their fans with stand-off behaviours. They need always to remember that the fans allow them to be successful. He said, “People is people. Dem nuh betta than you, You nuh betta than them.” Artists should never forget that the fans love and respect them for their music and talent.
Yellowman continues to perform his craft with well-known dancing and jumping around the stage. He does not have a stop in sight.