The Legend Of Sugar Minott & Youth Promotion
Beth Lesser - Writings

THE LEGEND OF SUGAR MINOTT & YOUTH PROMOTION (2011)

Sugar never left the ghetto and he never left music. He remained among his bredren and continued his fight to make music sustain an impoverished community, and teach the youth the right way to live. He was like a bright flame illuminating and warming everything around him. Even the hardest and coldest would melt next to his big, welcoming smile, his kindness and his generosity. His memory will live on in his music and in the music of those who learned from him and were influenced by him.

The Legend Of Sugar Minott & Youth Promotion
Beth Lesser - Writings

THE LEGEND OF SUGAR MINOTT & YOUTH PROMOTION (2011)

Sugar never left the ghetto and he never left music. He remained among his bredren and continued his fight to make music sustain an impoverished community, and teach the youth the right way to live. He was like a bright flame illuminating and warming everything around him. Even the hardest and coldest would melt next to his big, welcoming smile, his kindness and his generosity. His memory will live on in his music and in the music of those who learned from him and were influenced by him.

THE LEGEND OF SUGAR MINOTT & YOUTH PROMOTION is both a biography of the legendary Jamaican vocalist and a history of the sound system, Youth Promotion.

Writing his tribute to the reggae Don Sugar Minott was a labor of love for Beth Lesser. She and her husband, David Kingston, were married at Sugar’s home in 1986, at a Youth Promotion dance. When Sugar passed away, Beth realized the importance of keeping his memory alive.

Although his music speaks for itself, people might not be aware of all the good he did in his quest to give guidance and support to the youth in the ghetto. Or how much he gave to reggae by discovering and nurturing such artists as Little John, Tristan Palma, Tenorsaw, Junior Reid, Garnett Silk, and many others. Sugar Minott spent his life helping talented youth get ahead in the business. A huge influence on the course of modern reggae, Sugar Minott is a true legend in Jamaican music.

This special Muzik Tree edition features many never before published photographs of Sugar, his family and the whole crew.

Sugar Minott & Friends in Toronto ON

Sugar Minott & Friends in Toronto ON

KINGSTON HAS ALWAYS BEEN A MUSICAL CITY. Its small neighborhoods have been identified by their musical styles, and musicians have been categorized by their area of origin.

Trenchtown, Kingston 12, was one of the first areas to be identified as a musical hub, with the early ska singers like Stranger Cole, Toot and the Maytals and, of course, the Wailers. The streets were lined with young aspiring artists, and every evening they would gather on the corners, under the lampposts, and harmonize.

Deejay Jah Thomas grew up in, and drew inspiration from, this musically fertile ground. “When I was a youth growing up, groups like Wailing Souls- they used to be right next door to Bob Marley on 1st street in Trenchtown. We were all in one circle. Cause I used to live a Trenchtown, Collie Smith Drive and 10th Street corner there. Every different street, you would have a different artist. It was a place you could just walk and look at a singer. If you go up to 4th street, you find Alton Ellis. Delroy Wilson was on 2nd street and we used to pass by just for a glimpse of him.”

Sammy Dread 1983

Sammy Dread 1983

Musician and singer Percy Williams remembers, “Jah Jerry, Ernest Ranglin, Tommy McCook, Roland Alphonzo, Lloyd Nibbs, Leroy Sibbles and the Heptones,. Al and the Vibrators, Skatalites, you have Toots and the Maytals come off of the same corner – 13th street in Trench Town – we all used to play on the street corner.”

In the 70’s, the glory shifted to areas like Greenwich Farm, where Bunny Lee held court, and labels like Freedom Sounds thrived, with Earl Chinna Smith and the Soul Syndicate band backing all the artists. Life was nice in Greenwich Farm. Next to the sea, people could catch fish to feed themselves and string up impromptu guitars with fishing line. While Greenwich Farm wasn’t really a big sound system area per se, it had a reputation as a major musical breeding ground. Jah Stitch’s Black Harmony sound had played there in the 70’s. In the 80’s, Dexter Campbell’s Echo Vibration ruled. Greenwhich Farm was where Sammy Dread, Phillip Frazer, Peter Ranking and General Lucky, Michigan and Smiley all got their starts.

Kingston 11, Waterhouse, was becoming popular as a musical base in the 70’s, the place where King Tubby was bringing the new musical art called dub to new levels of creativity, and teaching an apprentice, and soon to be King, Prince Jammy.

In the 80’s, the focus shifted to Kingston 13. Maxfield Park became one of the biggest music areas of all. “Kingston was like Hollywood,” Producer Ossie Thomas explains, “You find stars popping up all over the Maxfield Park area. Like Tristan Palma, Michael Palmer, Lloyd Hemmings, Earl Cunningham….”

Deejay Lady Anne grew up in Maxfield Park. “Where I’m from, [music] was all around- Tristan Palma live across [the street]. Junior Byles in the middle. Mighty Diamonds live at the end. Barry Brown live up at the top. Sugar Minott live up at the top. Dillinger live ‘round the corner. Trinity and [Clint] Eastwood live down the block. Lui Lepke down the road. I was surrounded by music.”

The area got a big boost in 1979 when the Soul Syndicate band moved in. “The Soul Syndicate- they left Half Road in Greenwich Farm and came to Delamere Avenue,” Sugar recalled. “Chinna [Smith], Santa [Davis, the drummer], [Fully] Fullwood – all those people [were] a great inspiration for us on the corner.” Not only did they bring some of the great Greenwich Farm artists with them, but they gave the artists living in the area a chance to rehearse with a real live band, which made all the difference.

Sugar Minott in Aquarius studio - 1983

Sugar Minott in Aquarius studio – 1983

MAXFIELD PARK IS WHERE SUGAR’S MUSICAL STORY BEGAN. With Maxfield Avenue, home of Channel One, on the east, Waltham Park Road to the West, and Chisholm Avenue to the north Maxfield Park was a fairly large and varied neighborhood containing both commercial and residential streets. Between Chisholm and Maxfield sits Norman Manly High School where most of the area artists went to school.

Lincoln Barrington Minott was born May 25, 1956 in Kingston, Jamaica. He earned the nickname Sugar as a boy for his love of sweets and habit of eating candy. His father, Austin Minott, had come to Kingston from Harker’s Hall, a farming village in St Catherine close to the Bog Walk area, and his mother, Lucille Lester, came from Lawrence Tavern, St Andrews. Over her life, Lucille had eight children, three girls and five boys, several of whom joined Sugar later in the music business. Sugar was her only child with Austin. Unhappily, Austin passed away in the early 80’s before Sugar had a chance to buy him a house, according to daughter Tamar, “something he always told me he regretted.”

Sugar Minott in Aquarius studio - 1983

Sugar Minott in Aquarius studio – 1983

Maxfield Park, although a ghetto area, was not the worst in Kingston. But, people were poor. Living on Delacree Road, Lucille was unable, like most downtown residents, to afford a television set. So, Sugar kept his little brothers entertained on a budget. Sugar would cut out the front of a cardboard box and cover it with newspaper. Then he would shine the light from behind as he moved the little cardboard men he cut out and narrated the story. Earl, one of the younger brothers, would watch in awe, admiring his older sibling with his whole heart and soul. “Sugar was the best. He was brilliant at these things.”

As young man he went to a trade school to study electronics and worked for a time in a company on Slipe Pen Road where his bigger brother Clive was then employed. But working in a machine shop just wasn’t what he wanted from life. One day, Sugar had enough of the shop and got up and left. He also spent a short time building shelves, the kind that were used in banks and other work places. But his daughter Tamar recalls, none of it lasted too long, “because he said his calling was for music.”

Living next door to a dance hall had a big influence on him in his early years. “I used to keep imitation dance, make cardboard boxes look like speaker box. I used to use those bottle snapper as my turner and my amplifier, with sticks going through them. I used to perform the songs I hear at the dance and then the kids, they used to pay to come in too.” Sugar remembers being obsessed with the dance hall throughout his entire childhood. “My mother always tell me that, whenever she want to find me, she just follow the music. Cause she know I’m there. She says I never give her no trouble because I’m always at dance. I never get time to be up to anything.”

Despite his easy going nature and natural charm, Sugar did get in trouble to at home occasionally, mainly for sneaking out at night to go to a session. Later on, his mother ran into problems with him cutting school and going to studios. But that was it. Otherwise, he was kind and thoughtful – “caring, loving- he tried to help people”, even as a child, according to Sugar’s younger brother, Ken. People gravitated to Sugar because, “He was a loving kid and fun to be around.”

Daddy Ants - 1987

Daddy Ants – 1987

“There was a time when I used to have to pretend that I’m a part of the sound to get in, like trying to carry some small items and stand up beside the sound people, and say I’m a part of it. Sometime it work, [but] then they go around and say, ‘Do you know this one?’ Sometimes them say, ‘Yea, man. Him alright’. Next time them say, ‘No, man’”.

As a youth, Sugar’s days were filled with going to school and playing football afterwards. “In the morning, Sugar wake, have a little porridge, cook and eat a little food and thing, and when it comes to 4 o’clock and school over, everybody go and play football. Sugar was the goal keeper. Sugar was a bad goalkeeper, man!” recalls Daddy Ants.

Derrick “Eric Bubbles” Howard remembers playing in those pick-up games. “Sugar was a great footballer. A great gatekeeper [goal keeper]. One of the biggest footballer in Jamaica”. Although he was fascinated with music, and spent his evenings hanging around the dancehall, and weekends entering local talent shows, Sugar’s biggest dream at the time was to play football. As yet, he was a bit shy about singing in public.

But one day, Sugar met his Waterloo in a match against the top rated team in Jamaica, Boy’s Town. “That was one of the biggest team in Jamaica that time,” Daddy Ants recounts. “All the greats used to play for Boy’s Town. We were second to Boys town.” “One day we were playing against Boy’s Town club with all of those great guys and they came and they beat us. And the guys say, ‘Sugar, you’re not supposed to be playing football, you’re our singer, come sing some tunes’. And from that day on, from that day on, Sugar just put him head straight to the music.”

As a minor, Sugar wasn’t allowed officially into dances, but he found ways to infiltrate. “We used to make holes in the dance hall fence, that is, the kids who couldn’t go in legally. Pull away the fence and go in and you had to watch out for the inspector.

View or Download the PDF of the book HERE.

Beth Lesser

During the 1980s, my husband and I traveled frequently to Kingston, Jamaica and Brooklyn, NY from our home in Toronto, Canada to follow the changing reggae scene. In that period reggae was changing fast, moving from the heavy roots sound of suffering and redemption to the lighter, faster, digitized sound of modern dancehall.

My husband and I saw it happen. We saw Junjo’s Volcano empire rise meteorically and them crash as his young artists emigrated or met untimely deaths. We witnessed Jah Love’s Brigadier Jerry take over the dancehall scene without ever having recorded a 45 – powered by the new popularity of dance hall cassettes.

We were in Waterhouse when King Jammy unleashed his Sleng Teng rhythm to an analog world and, one by one, producers dropped their previously recorded rhythms and started building again from scratch using programmable keyboards and drum machines. We were in Jammy’s yard while he cut the dubplates for the Clash of the Century, the event that brought dancehall culture to the larger Jamaican audience.

Over those years, I collected an archive of material that I would like to make available to the public – to present and future reggae scholars and fans.

Photo right: Beth Lesser and David Kingston get married at Youth Promotion.

All images & text © Beth Lesser

Beth Lesser and David Kingston get married at Youth Promotion