Dennis Brown: The 'Crown Prince' Of Reggae The great Bob Marley called Dennis Brown the best reggae singer in the world. The name "crown prince" stuck with Brown for much of his 30-year career, but his fans say he ranks second to no one. He cut his first hit when he was only 11, and over the next three decades recorded more than 75 albums packed with hits.
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Dennis Brown: The 'Crown Prince' Of Reggae

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Dennis Brown: The 'Crown Prince' Of Reggae

Dennis Brown: The 'Crown Prince' Of Reggae

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There is no figure more revered in reggae music than Bob Marley. But there was another singer that Marley himself revered, named Dennis Brown. Brown was less well-known outside Jamaican communities, but his voice was an inspiration to all who heard it.

And as part of our "50 Great Voices" series, Christopher Johnson has this appreciation of Dennis Brown.

(Soundbite of song, "Man Next Door")

Mr. DENNIS BROWN (Singer): (Singing) Got to get away. Got to get away from here...

Mr. DAMIAN MARLEY (Singer): If they say that Bob Marley is the king of reggae music, then Dennis Brown is really the crown prince.

CHRISTOPHER JOHNSON: High praise coming from the king's youngest son, Damian Marley. It's one of the genre's oldest debates: Who really rules classic reggae, Bob Marley or Dennis Brown? Even Bob Marley hailed Brown as the best reggae singer in the world.

(Soundbite of song, "Man Next Door")

Mr. BROWN: (Singing) I've got to get away from here. This is not a place for me to stay. I've got to take my family and find a quiet place.

JOHNSON: The name "crown prince" stuck with Brown for much of his 30-year career, but fans say he ranks second to no one.

Mr. FREDDIE McGREGOR (Singer): He was our child prodigy because although I started recording way before Dennis, when Dennis started recording, he immediately became successful.

JOHNSON: Reggae singer Freddie McGregor became friends with Dennis Brown in Kingston, where Brown was born in 1957. They first met at Studio One, the same place Bob Marley got his start. Brown was already being billed the boy wonder singing sensation when he stopped by Studio One to cut his first hit, "No Man Is an Island." He was 11 years old.

(Soundbite of song, "No Man is an Island)

Mr. BROWN: (Singing) No man is an island. No man stands alone. Each man has a brother. And remember, each man's dream has a road.

JOHNSON: Over the next three decades, he made more than 75 albums packed with hits. Dennis Brown was a force.

Mr. BROWN: (Singing) You can't live in this world all by yourself. No. No. No, you can't make it alone. And just as sure as you try to make it by yourself, you're going to wake up and find you're going to need somebody else.

JOHNSON: The key to Dennis Brown's success was his voice. Damian Marley describes it this way.

Mr. MARLEY: Dennis Emmanuel Brown, I would have to say joy.

JOHNSON: Joy, the word leaps off of Marley's tongue. It's what Marley hears every time a Dennis Brown tune comes on.

(Soundbite of song, "Ain't that Loving You")

Mr. BROWN: (Singing) You think I love you for just one thing. To you, my love, it may be the way it seems. But I love the way you carry yourself. I even love the way you wear your hair. Ain't that loving you? Ain't that loving you?

Mr. GEORGE BURNS (D.J., VP Records): You just have to fall in love with the voice. With the lyrics behind it, it's just soothing. You can just listen to one Dennis Brown after another and dont get bored. It's just hits after hits after hits.

JOHNSON: VP Records store is a Mecca for reggae and dance hall fans in Jamaica -Jamaica, Queens. George Burns is a D.J. who helps run the place. He's out of breath giving Brown props.

Mr. BURNS: "If I Follow My Heart," that was his first album. I remember I see my father with it, and I sneak it out and keep on playing "If I Follow My Heart," "If I Follow My Heart." Oh, my gosh. That was awesome.

(Soundbite of song, "If I Follow my Heart")

Mr. BROWN: (Singing) If I follow my heart, Im gonna love you. Love you. Love you. And if I follow my tears, Im gonna leave you. Leave you. Leave you...

JOHNSON: Dennis Brown and Freddie McGregor shared stage and studio together. McGregor calls Brown, my brother Dennis. Dennis, with that incredible voice...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. McGREGOR: It's tremolo. If you listen to an organ, especially like a church organ, you would always hear tremolo, that sort of vibrato with sounds soulful and deep.

(Soundbite of song, If I Follow my Heart")

Mr. BROWN: (Singing) Too long I've been a loner, trying to find a lover. (unintelligible) so long and still I have to carry on. Living this way is such an easy game to play.

Mr. McGREGOR: That vibrato sound brings out that soulfulness within vocals.

JOHNSON: Brown became an international reggae star. Then, at the age of 42, he died in Kingston, felled partly by a decades-long cocaine addiction. That was 11 years ago.

Damian Marley still sees and hears Brown's influence.

Mr. MARLEY: He's one of those persons that made it cool to smile in reggae music. To me, when I listen to his music, I can hear that he really loved singing. It almost sounds like my smile while he's singing, you know what I mean?

JOHNSON: That Dennis Brown joy - it's still alive for Freddie McGregor.

Mr. McGREGOR: I'm looking at a picture of myself and Dennis Brown. That was backstage at the National Arena in Kingston. I see that picture every day. Every day, I see that Dennis Brown smile, you know?

JOHNSON: Listen to McGregor. He's back there now - back with his friend, the prince, king and brother.

For NPR News, Im Christopher Johnson.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. BROWN: (Singing) Yeah. Oh, baby. You make me so very happy. Even a blind man could see that your love can be so beautiful...

INSKEEP: And if you'd like to get a look at Dennis Brown and hear more of his music, go to the NPR music site. Thats

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