Reggae Month – A Brief Moment in Reggae History
Titans of Reggae Music, Dennis Brown and Bob Marley
by Howard Campbell
KINGSTON, Jamaica — It’s often said that Dennis Brown was Bob Marley’s favorite singer. In September, 1980, the two titans almost shared the mic at the Beacon Theater in New York.
Copeland Forbes, Brown’s manager at the time, said Marley was in the Big Apple to promote his Uprising album and was scheduled to open for The Commodores at Madison Square Garden.
He heard that Brown was scheduled to fly in from England, where he lived, and wanted to surprise him by appearing on stage and performing two songs.
“Bob was big in New York that year. He really wanted to cut into the black American market and so opening for The Commodores was part of that move. He was really working the New York market and even had a float during the parade on Eastern Parkway that year,” Forbes said in a 2021 interview with the Jamaica Observer.
Marley even had Lloyd Parks and We The People, Brown’s backing band, rehearse the songs. But Brown missed his flight and the show was canceled for the following week.
Forbes was later told that Marley was waiting in a limousine outside the Beacon Theater unaware that the show was called off.
“When I hear he was outside I rush out. He is sitting in the limo and told me he has been there since 8 pm but waiting for someone to call him when we are ready. I had to tell him the show was postponed,” he recalled.
Marley was unable to make the new date. On September 21, two days after a momentous show opening for The Commodores, he collapsed in Central Park and was subsequently diagnosed with cancer.
Bob Marley died in May, 1981 at age 36. In 1992, Brown paid tribute to him by covering Natural Mystic, a song from Exodus, Marley’s epic 1977 album.
In 2010, Damian “Junior Gong” Marley, Bob’s son, sampled Brown’s Promised Land (as Land of Promise) with rapper Nas. That song was from their album, Distant Relatives.
Dennis Brown, the Crown Prince of Reggae, died in July, 1999 at age 42. He would have turned 66 on February 1.