Monday, October 25, 2010
“If you want to be my number one,” is the chorus to one of Gregory Isaacs’ most famous hits, "Number One," a playful love song in his signature slow-groove style. The song itself would not be memorable, an uninteresting roots-reggae number with an unadorned rhythm and simple melody – great for dancing, but nothing amazing – if it weren’t for Isaacs’ brilliant vocals. His intensely personal, unhurried voice comes across like a revelation: it sounds like he is singing just for you.
This evocative tone was Isaacs’ unique gift. Of all the soulful Jamaican reggae singers, none could create such a powerful and immediate human connection as he did. This gift led him from the talent contests he regularly participated in as a teenager in Kingston in the 1960’s, to a long and prolific career as an international star. In a career spanning more than four decades, he produced over fifty albums of original material, and never stopped touring.
I will never forget seeing Isaacs live in Golden Gate Park one summer when I was a teenager. He held a crowd of thousands enthralled for hours, his mesmerizing voice effortlessly making everyone dance. The scene was idyllic and the atmosphere so much more than just friendly or positive – it was like the tender, human quality of his singing had touched the entire audience.
This music icon and reggae superstar will be sorely missed.
- Jeff Peer
Check out this video of Isaacs, performing at Reggae Sunsplash, in Jamaica, in 1983.