The “Godfather of rocksteady” Alton Ellis passed away October 10 at London’s Hammersmith Hospital. He was 70. Ellis was hospitalized for several weeks after collapsing during a performance at a British club on August 10. Although officials have stated that his family does not wish to release details, Trojan Records reports that Ellis had been diagnosed with lymphatic cancer.
Considered to be one of the greatest Jamaican crooners, Ellis will be widely remembered as the first to fuse ska and reggae influences into the ground-breaking genre coined “rocksteady.” He first garnered acclaim in Jamaica as the front-man of The Flames, and had numerous hits including “Dance Crasher,” “I’m Just A Guy” and “Get Ready – Rock Steady.” Ellis relocated to England in the ‘70s, where he founded the Alltone record label. In 2006, he was inducted into the International Reggae & World Music Awards Hall Of Fame.
Ellis was born in 1938 in Kingston, Jamaica, and grew up in a music-loving family. He learned to sing, dance and play the piano as a young boy, and he often performed at local school concerts and dance competitions. Ellis later worked as a laborer at a Stony Hill construction site, where he was encouraged by his co-workers to audition for “Vere John’s Opportunity Hour.” He withdrew from the contest, having no intention of pursuing a professional singing career—until his friend Eddy Parkins persuaded him to form the successful duo Alton & Eddy in the late ‘50s.
Ellis will receive a state funeral in Jamaica. He is survived by his wife and more than 20 children.