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Putting the Ska in the Skatalites

Lester Sterling, born on January 31, 1936, in Kingston, Jamaica, was a pivotal figure in the development of Jamaican music, particularly in the genres of ska and reggae. Known for his mastery of both the saxophone and trumpet, Sterling’s musical journey was heavily influenced by his time at the Alpha Boys School, a renowned institution in Jamaica that nurtured numerous future musical talents.

Sterling’s early musical career saw him as a member of the Jamaica Military Band in the 1950s. He later joined Val Bennett’s band in 1957, where he initially played the trumpet. His transition to the saxophone, particularly the alto sax, was influenced by the legendary jazz musician Charlie Parker. This shift marked a significant turning point in his career and musical expression.

A founding member of The Skatalites, Sterling played a crucial role in the band, contributing to the creation and popularization of ska music. The Skatalites, formed in 1964, are renowned for their influential role in the evolution of Jamaican music, backing several iconic musicians and groups of the time. Even after The Skatalites disbanded in 1965, Sterling continued to make significant contributions to music, playing with Byron Lee & the Dragonaires and embarking on a successful solo career.

Sterling’s solo endeavors include notable singles and albums such as “Bangarang,” released in 1969. His contributions to the music industry were recognized in 1998 when he was awarded the Order of Distinction for his services to Jamaican music. Sterling rejoined The Skatalites when they reformed in 1975 and continued to perform with them until his retirement in 2014. His work with The Skatalites and other projects showcased his versatility and enduring influence in the music world.

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