[KINGSTON, Jamaica] – The Jamaican music industry lost another pioneer with the death of music producer/distributor Sonny Roberts on March 17.
He died here from cancer at age 89, his daughter Cleon said.
Roberts, who was born in Manchester parish in central Jamaica, migrated to the United Kingdom in 1958. A carpenter by profession, he is widely recognized as the first black man to operate a recording studio in that country.
He assembled that facility in fellow Jamaican Lee Gopthal’s London basement where he produced instrumental songs by saxophonist Mike Elliott and trombonist Rico Rodriquez for his Planetone Records.
Gopthal formed Trojan Records in 1968.
Roberts closed Planetone and the studio during the late 1960’s, but returned to the music business in the early 1970’s with Orbitone Records in the London borough of Harlesden, home to a massive West Indian community.
Orbitone produced and/or released music by a diverse cast of artists including lovers’ rock reggae singers Judy Boucher, Joyce Bond and Tim Chandell; early Afrobeat by Nigerian saxophonist Peter King and his band, The Nkengas; and groundbreaking soca songs like Gimme De Thing by Lord Kitchener.
“My Dad was a pioneer and mentor to many artists. He was always about uplifting people,” said his daughter.
Sonny Roberts, who returned to Jamaica during the late 1990’s, is survived by his wife, three children, several grandchildren, a sister and brother.
He is the latest Jamaican music stalwart to die in the last seven months. Toots Hibbert, fellow music producer Bunny Lee, Albert Griffiths of The Gladiators, deejay U Roy and Bunny Wailer pre-deceased him.