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Passings : Alton Ellis

Singer known for rocksteady sound

October 14, 2008|From Times Staff and Wire Service Reports

Alton Ellis, 70, a reggae music pioneer who popularized the laid-back rocksteady sound that came out of Jamaica in the 1960s, died Friday of cancer in a London hospital.

Ellis was set to record "Get Ready -- Rock Steady" in the late 1960s when his bassist failed to show up. The keyboardist slowed down the frantic ska beat so that he could also play the bass part.

The resulting rocksteady sound showcased Ellis' smooth vocals and had "soon taken over Jamaican music, with Ellis leading the charge," according to the All Music Web database.

Born into a musical family in 1938 in Kingston, Jamaica, Ellis began his music career in the late 1950s.

While fronting the vocal group the Flames, he had several hit songs, including the anti-violence plea "Dance Crasher." Among several other major successes were "Cry Tough" and "Girl I've Got a Date," which became his signature song.

With the arrival of Bob Marley and roots reggae, Ellis' fame peaked in the 1960s. He moved to Canada and settled mainly in England in the 1970s.

Over the last 15 years, rocksteady found new popularity in Jamaica and Europe, and Ellis had performed regularly until August.

His survivors include more than 20 children.

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