Epic Jamaican Men

Have a look at some of Jamaica’s most influential men in politics and public service, the arts, sports, the sciences and more who have stood out over the years. This is by no means an exhaustive list, so feel free to share information about other standout Jamaican men with us in the comments below, or on Facebook or Twitter.

The Arts

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Bogle – Born Gerald Levy, he was the quintessential Jamaican dancehall dancer. His stage name was a reference to National Hero Paul Bogle. He is credited with creating a number of iconic dance moves, including the Willie Bounce, Wacky Dip, Urkle Dance, Pelper, Zip It Up, World Dance, Row di Boat, Out and Bad, and his namesake move, the Bogle. Levy also had an acting credit for the American crime drama Belly, which was partially filmed in Jamaica. He was killed at a service station on Constant Spring Road, St Andrew, in 2005. In 2015, he was posthumously recognised by The Jamaica Reggae Industry Association (JaRIA) during Reggae Month, with February 12 dedicated to a full analysis of his work via an interactive forum and presentation.

Cecil Baugh – Jamaica’s ‘master potter’ was born in Bangor Ridge, Portland in about 1909 and attended the Bangor Ridge Primary School. During his adolescent years, he was given the task to take food for his brother at Long Mountain Road (now Mountain View Avenue.) It was here that he was first exposed to the ancient art of pottery. Young Cecil Baugh watched the women who made and fired the yabbah bowls which were produced by a technique which survived from the days of slavery itself, and was of African origin. After initially establishing himself as a potter, his work was interrupted by a stint in the Royal Engineers of the British Army. Following his army days, he returned to England, where he eventually secured tutelage from Bernard Leach, considered the most respected figure in ceramics in the Western world. He mounted his first one-man exhibition in 1950, and later taught at the newly established Jamaica School of Art, retiring in 1975. Baugh died on June 28, 2005 at the age of 96.

Carl Bradshaw – Jamaica’s most renowned actor, Bradshaw’s acting career began with the part of bad man Jose in the classic reggae film The Harder They Come. Throughout his career, he has line-produced dozens of video and television programmes for both local and international consumption, including co-producing Dancehall Queen in which he also played a supporting role. His other credits include Third World Cop, Smile Orange, Countryman, The LunaticKlash, One Love and Better Mus’ Come and in the television show Traxx. He has received a number of awards, including the Doctor Bird Award for Acting (considered Jamaica’s Academy Award), the Carifesta Film Festival award of excellence, and Actor Boy award for Best Actor. Bradshaw was also a former Olympic quarter-mile runner for Jamaica.

Jimmy Cliff – He was born James Chambers on April 1, 1948, in St James. He rose to national prominence in 1972 as the lead actor in the iconic Jamaican film, The Harder They Come. He also helped to produce the soundtrack and sang a number of the songs including the title track which was inducted in the Grammy Hall Of Fame in 2008. In 1986, he appeared in the comedy Club Paradise and contributed several songs to the soundtrack.  In 1990, he appeared in the film Marked for DeathHis numerous awards include a Grammy Award for Best Reggae Album (1986), induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (2010) and he is a recipient of the Order of Merit, the third highest conferred upon a citizen of Jamaica by the Government.

Christopher Gonzalez – He was born in Kingston in 1943 to a Puerto Rican father and Jamaican mother. González graduated from the Jamaica School of Art (now The Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts) in 1963, where he majored in sculpture and later became a faculty member. He went on to earn his Master’s degree in Fine Arts from the California College of Arts and Crafts, and taught at schools and institutions in Jamaica, California, and Atlanta. His first came to national recognition in the mid-1960s when he was commissioned to do the Coat of Arms and a bust of National Hero George William Gordon.

Some of his later work would earn him many admirers, but shocked others. Among these was a statue of Christ with protruding phallus, which was rejected by the local Roman Catholic Church. Perhaps his most controversial piece is the bronze Marley statue, commissioned in the wake of the the iconic singer’s death in 1981. Featuring Marley appearing to ‘grow’ out of tree-like roots, it did not get the approval of the government nor Marley’s family and was never officially unveiled. It stood at the National Gallery for nearly 20 years before it was moved in October 2002 to the Island Village theme museum in Ocho Rios. Gonzalez lost his battle with cancer in August 2008, at the age of 65.

Perry Henzell – Born in Annotto Bay, St Mary, Henzell became a pioneer in Jamaica’s film industry. The descendant of wealthy parents, he reportedly rejected his privileged status early on and was shipped off to Shrewsbury, an English boarding school, at 14. However, he rebelled and instead, proceeded to hitchhike around Europe. After briefly attending McGill University in Montreal, Canada, in 1956, he headed to the BBC’s drama department in London with the intention of becoming a director; he was saved from outright rejection by gaining work experience as a stagehand. Henzell is best known as the director-producer of The Harder They Come, the all Jamaican-made 1972 classic. He started off in London at the BBC and, after some years there, came back to Jamaica where he started Vista Productions, in Kingston, making commercials. After making more than 200 such commercials, he set out to create The Harder They Come, co-written with Trevor Rhone. His second film, No Place Like Home, premiered at the Flashpoint Film Festival in Negril, following his death from cancer at 70 yeard old.

Marlon James – He was born in Jamaica in 1970. His most recent novel, A Brief History of Seven Killings, won the 2015 Man Booker Prize. It was also a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and won the OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature for fiction, the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for fiction, and the Minnesota Book Award. It was also a New York Times Notable Book. James is also the author of The Book of Night Women, which won the 2010 Dayton Literary Peace Prize and the Minnesota Book Award, and was a finalist for the 2010 National Book Critics Circle Award in fiction and an NAACP Image Award. His first novel, John Crow’s Devil, was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for first fiction and the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize and was a New York Times Editors’ Choice. James lives in Minneapolis, where he is an associate professor at Macalester College.

Bob Marley – One of the most influential musicians the world has ever seen, Marley is known in every corner of the globe for unforgettable ska, rocksteady and reggae rhythms, as well as lyrics about struggle and change that encouraged people to stand up for their rights. He was born Robert Nesta Marley in Rhoden Hall, St Ann on February 6, 1945. In 1962, Marley’s first record Judge Not was released. By the following year, Bob linked up with Bunny Wailer and Peter Tosh to form The Wailing Wailers. The King of Reggae released 13 studio and two live albums in his lifetime, but several compilations have been produced since his death at 36 years old in 1981. The most notable of these is Songs of Freedom, a 78-song box set released in 1992. Exodus, Bob Marley and The Wailers’ 1977 album, was named Best Album of the Century by Time magazine in December, 1999. Almost simultaneously, the universal classic One Love, was selected as the Song of the Century by the BBC.

Mervyn Morris – He was born in Kingston in 1937 and later attended Munro College in St Elizabethe. From there, he went on to the University of the West Indies and St Edmund Hall, Oxford, where he was a Rhodes Scholar. He won an Institute of Race Relations Essay Competitionin 1963 with a notable piece entitled, ‘Feeling, Affection, Respect’, and had essays and poems broadcast by the BBC before returning to Jamaica.

Morris has produced four collections of poems, The Pond, On Holy Week, Shadowboxing and Examination Centre. In 2014, he was named Jamaica’s first Poet Laureate in 60 years. The title of Poet Laureate is a national honour that recognizes a distinguished Jamaican poet for his/her significant contribution to the literary community. He was also appointed professor emeritus of creative writing and West Indian literature at the UWI, Mona, in 2003, after teaching in the Department of Literatures in English since 1970. Morris’ other accomplishments and awards include MCOBA Hall of Fame (2013), CPTC Cultural Medal of Honour (2012), Order of Merit, Jamaica (2009), Silver Musgrave Medal for Poetry (Institute of Jamaica, 1976), and the 1958 Rhodes Scholarship (1957).

Mutabaruka – Born Allan Hope, the former Kingston Technical High School student became Mutabaruka in the 1970s, a period of great black consciousness in Jamaica. He is widely known as a dub poet, though he would probably resist the limitations of the label. An electrifying performer, he holds audiences spellbound while saying his piece about issues such as injustice and inequality in society, the plight of black people locally and around the world, and more.

His works include the books Outcry, Sun and MoonThe First Poems and  The Next Poems, and 14 recordings, among them – Mystery Unfolds, Blakk Wi Blak, Muta in Dub, Melanin Man, and Life Squared. He has also appeared in two movies, Sankofa and One Love.

Rex Nettleford – Ralston Milton Nettleford was both a scholar and a cultural icon. He was the co-founder of the National Dance Theatre Company (NDTC), a dance and folk music ensemble dedicated to showcasing “projecting the movement patterns and customs of the island to people locally and abroad,” and “[maintaining] constant research and documentation of our folk legends and customs, to be used as thematic material for new dances.” Nettleford and fellow choreographer Eddy Thomas founded the Company in 1962, the same year Jamaica gained independence.

A Rhodes Scholar, he had the world at his feet in the United Kingdom but chose to return home and established a 40-plus year career at the University of the West Indies, where he notably developed the ­department of extramural studies and the Trade Union Education Institute. He also wrote and spoke extensively on Afro-Caribbean cultural identity, and argued for people of African descent to use education to empower themselves.

Ernie Ranglin – He was born June 19, 1932, and grew up in the small town of Robin’s Hall in Manchester. Ranglin’s destiny was set from an early age when two of his uncles showed him the rudiments of playing the guitar. He learned how to play by imitating them, but soon discovered the recordings of American jazz guitarist Charlie Christian. He moved to Kingston, ostensibly to finish his studies at Bodmin College, but his true lessons came from guitar books and late-night sessions watching the Jamaican dance bands of the time. In 1948 he joined his first group, the Val Bennett Orchestra, playing in the local hotels. By the early fifties, he was a member of Jamaica’s best-known group, the Eric Deans Orchestra, touring around the Caribbean and as far north as the Bahamas.

Ranglin’s signature sound was largely considered the backbone of many of the hits from reggae legends Bob Marley, Jimmy Cliff, Toots and The Maytals, and The Skatalites. His jazz-influenced approach has featured on countless records, including Millie Small’s My Boy Lollipop, Jamaica’s first international hit. In 2008, Ranglin was inducted into the Jamaican Music Hall of Fame by the Jamaica Association of Vintage Artistes and Affiliates.

Trevor Rhone – Born on March 24, 1940, in St Catherine, Rhone would eventually become one of Jamaica’s most acclaimed and successful dramatists. His best-known works include the 1972 film The Harder They Come, which he co-wrote with Henzell; One Love, and Milk and Honey, which he co-wrote to earn The Genie Award (for Best Original Screenplay), Canada’s highest film honour. His plays include Smile Orange, Old Story Time, School’s Out, Two Can Play and Bellas Gate Boy.

Rhone, a graduate of Beckford & Smith (now St Jago High School) also taught at the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts, received many national awards from the Jamaican government, including Commander of the Order of Distinction and the Prime Minister’s Award for Lifetime Achievement.

Shaggy – Born Orville Richard Burrell on October 22, 1968, in Kingston, this bonafide superstar is best known for hits such as Oh CarolinaBoombastic, It Wasn’t Me, Strength of a Woman, and Angel. After moving to the US at 18, he went on to serve as a Field Artillery Cannon Crewman in the 10th Marines during Operation Desert Storm. It was while leading marching cadences that he developed his signature style of singing.

Shaggy has released 12 albums, and won the Best Reggae Album Grammy award in 1996 for Boombastic. He is also a renowned philanthropist. His Shaggy Make A Difference Foundation has so far staged four successful “Shaggy & Friends” concerts that have raised a total of some USD$1.6 million benefitting the Bustamante Hospital. These funds have helped purchase over 450 pieces of life-saving equipment for the hospital, greatly increasing its capacity to provide quality healthcare for the children of Jamaica and the Caribbean.

Oliver Samuels – The beloved actor and comedian was born November 4, 1948 in Harmony Hall, St Mary. He grew up on a banana plantation where his father worked as a casual labourer and his mother sold items on the estate. His involvement in drama began in his childhood where, at the age of seven he and the other children on the plantation would sing and recite poetry on Friday nights. Before getting his big break, he worked as a storekeeper at the Orange River Agricultural Station and then moved to Kingston,where he took a clerical job at the Water Commission and then a job in proof-reading at the Gleaner Company.

Samuels found fame on the Jamaica Broadcasting Corporation’s television series Oliver At Large, and has appeared in the films Out the GateThe Mighty Quinn and Countryman, in addition to numerous plays, such as Divorce Papers, Class of 73, Ras Noah and the Hawk, Midnight At Puss Creek, Who A Di Don? and many more. He was also a Pantomime star, with appearances in Music Boy, Queenie’s Daughter, Dickance for Fippance, Hail ColumbusThe Witch, Johnny Reggae, Ginneral B, The Hon All Purpose and more.

Peter Tosh – On September 11, 1987, Tosh had just returned to the island from an overseas trip and was entertaining friends when three intruders showed up demanding money. Tragedy would ensue, as Tosh, popular radio disc jockey Jeff Dixon, aka Free I, and Wilton Brown were killed. His girlfriend, Marlene Brown, was seriously injured. In a cruel twist of fate, one of the gunmen was Dennis ‘Leppo’ Lobban, whom Tosh had befriended and tried to help find work following his release from prison.

Many of Tosh’s supporters argue he was never given his due recognition while alive, and not much has changed in the 27 years since his untimely demise. It is widely held that this is because of his contentious and controversial stance on issues such as political tribalism, police brutality and marijuana legalisation. Musically and personality-wise, Tosh, born Winston Hubert McIntosh in Westmoreland, was definitely the militant foil to his better known bandmate Bob Marley’s ‘one love’ message and mellow persona.