Rolando Alphonso, born on January 12, 1931, in Havana, Cuba, was a remarkable Jamaican tenor saxophonist who played a pivotal role in the development of ska and reggae music. Known for his energetic and melodic playing style, Alphonso became a prominent figure in the Jamaican music scene and was widely regarded as one of the founding fathers of ska.
Alphonso grew up in Kingston, Jamaica, where he was immersed in the rich musical culture of the city. He began playing the saxophone at an early age and, by the time he was a teenager, he was already performing with local bands. Alphonso’s talent caught the attention of bandleader Eric Deans, who invited him to join the Eric Deans Orchestra, a popular dance band in Jamaica.
In the late 1950s, Rolando Alphonso became a founding member of the Skatalites, a seminal ska band that played a significant role in defining the sound of the genre. The Skatalites, which also included other renowned musicians such as Don Drummond, Tommy McCook, and Jackie Mittoo, quickly gained popularity for their infectious rhythms and innovative fusion of jazz, R&B, and Caribbean music.
Throughout his career, Alphonso recorded and performed with various artists and groups, including Studio One, Treasure Isle, and Prince Buster. He contributed his distinctive saxophone playing to numerous recordings that would become classics of ska and reggae music, such as “Guns of Navarone,” “Man in the Street,” and “Phoenix City.”
In the 1970s, after the Skatalites disbanded, Alphonso continued to perform and record with various artists, including Bob Marley and the Wailers. In 1983, the Skatalites reunited, and Alphonso played a crucial role in the band’s successful revival, touring extensively and releasing new albums, such as “Return of the Big Guns” (1984) and “Ska Voovee” (1993).
Rolando Alphonso’s contributions to ska and reggae music earned him numerous accolades, including the Order of Distinction from the Jamaican government in 1980, recognizing his significant impact on the country’s musical heritage.
Alphonso passed away on November 20, 1998, but his legacy as a pioneering saxophonist and ska musician lives on. His energetic and melodic playing style, combined with his innovative contributions to the development of ska and reggae music, continue to inspire and influence musicians and fans around the world, ensuring his place in history as a true music icon.
Last updated 3/18/2023.