Drummond was a musical genius, but he was also mentally troubled. Despite his brief life, the charismatic composer and trombonist is still regarded among the finest musicians Jamaica has ever produced. In fact, he was critical to the emergence and development of Jamaica’s popular music. Here are some facts about him:
- He was born on March 12, 1934, and taken to the famed Alpha Boys’ School on December 10, 1943 by his mother, who could no longer control his truancy. Two years later he was placed in the music band, and taught the most awkward of instruments – the trombone. He was able to master the instrument in almost no time.
- Upon his graduation from Alpha in 1950, Drummond was recommended to, and accepted by the famous Eric Deans All Stars band as trombonist, where he performed jazz music. He also had stints with The Sonny Bradshaw and Kenny Williams orchestras.
- As the music tastes of Jamaicans began leaning towards R&B, Drummond began performing ska. He soon joined fellow musicians Tommy McCook, Roland Alphonso, Johnny Moore, Jackie Mittoo, Lloyd Knibbs and others to form The Skatalites in 1963. Instrumental ska recordings, mainly reconstructed from original jazz pieces, were their speciality. Others were their own compositions, with Drummond, doing the bulk of the writing.
- Drummond had a long history of mental illness, and was hospitalised on a number of occasions. His condition worsened shortly after his last set of recordings with the Skatalites in 1964, and on New Year’s Day 1965, in a fit of jealous rage, he stabbed to death his girlfriend, Anita Mahfood, a rhumba dancer who performed under the name Marguerita, and then turned himself in to the police. He was tried, declared a criminal lunatic, and committed to the Bellevue Asylum Hospital.
- Drummond met his demise on May 6, 1969 under controversial circumstances at the Bellevue Hospital in east Kingston.
- His funeral on May 14, 1969 was postponed by members of his family after it was interrupted by a man calling for the post mortem results.
- Backed by The Skatalites, he recorded close to 200 selections, while writing or improvising on a vast amount. He left behind more than 100 improvised and original compositions.
- Drummond created some of the best musical arrangements in Jamaica’s popular music, like Eastern Standard Time, Music Is My Occupation, Schooling The Duke, Reload and Looking Through The Window. Some of his most popular recordings with The Skatalites include The Guns Of Navarone, Man In The Street, Scrap Iron, Bridge View, President Kennedy, and Addis Ababa.
February 2016 marks the seventh anniversary of Reggae Month. It is also the fifth year of the Jamaica Reggae Industry Association’s (JaRIA) annual Reggae/Black History Month Grounation series, which this year features famed trombonist, the late Don Drummond. The Jamaica Music Museum’s ‘Ungle Malungu Man: Musings on Don Drummond’ series will be held on Sundays during this month (7th, 14th, 21st and 28th), with relevant presentations and musical performances from philosopher Dr Earl McKenzie, psychiatrist Prof Freddy Hickling, and cultural historian/political scientist Dr Clinton Hutton. The series will also feature poets Dr Kwame Dawes, Prof Lorna Goodison, Jerry Small, Raymond Mair and Poet Laureate Prof Mervyn Morris.