Ernie Ranglin Elated to be Awarded “Order of Jamaica”

Ernest Ranglin - Master Musician Ernie Ranglin to be Honored

Ernest Ranglin

by Howard Campbell

[KINGSTON, Jamaica] – There’s no separating Ernie Ranglin from Jamaican pop culture. The guitarist has been part of the country’s music scene since the 1940s.

On October 18, the 89 year-old musician will be awarded the Order of Jamaica, by the Jamaican government. It is the Caribbean country’s fifth highest honor.

“I’m very happy about that, very thankful. I was wondering if everybody had forgotten me… it’s a pleasant surprise,” he joked.

Ranglin, who lives in rural Jamaica, keeps a low profile. He says his health “is not fully up there” but he still plays guitar at home.

With the Coronavirus particularly dangerous to the elderly, Ranglin rarely ventures out. He is not sure if he will be at King’s House in Kingston, Jamaica’s capital, to accept his award.

Ranglin is from Manchester, a rural farming parish in central Jamaica. Influenced by legendary jazz guitarist Charlie Christian, he found his way to Kingston in the 1940s and played in different bands before becoming an in-demand session musician and arranger a decade later.

Jamaican Music on the Map

Ranglin played important roles in some of the songs that helped put Jamaican music on the map. That’s his jazzy solo on It Hurts to be Alone, a tender 1964 ballad by an upcoming group called The Wailers. That year, Ranglin played on and arranged My Boy Lollipop by Millie Small, the ska song acknowledged as the first million seller by a Jamaican artist.

My Boy Lollipop was distributed by Island Records, the London-based Jamaican company co-founded by Chris Blackwell. Ranglin has a long association with the independent label, working with several of their major acts including Jimmy Cliff.

Though his forte is jazz, he took a break from that sound during the 1990s for financial reasons.

“I had done so much jazz and I wasn’t getting much out of it, so I decided to do my kind of reggae music. That’s what I survived by,” said Ranglin.

His “kind of reggae music” were fusion albums with Monty Alexander, his fellow Jamaican and acclaimed jazz pianist. He also collaborated with American guitarist Charlie Hunter, The Skatalites and Senegalese singer Baaba Maal.

Ernie Ranglin finds it tough talking about his achievements, which makes it challenging to select favorites from his vast archive.

“I’m just glad to have been around to make great music with great musicians. That alone is a blessing,” he said.

 

 

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