In a crowded field, Junior Delgado stands out amongst Jamaica's consummate roots performers, one whose distinctively expressive, and slightly husky, vocals have seen his popularity remain undiminished, even after styles changed and his original forte was pushed away by dancehall.
Born August 25, 1958, in Kingston, Jamaica, Delgado began singing in his teens as Junior Hibbert, with the vocal group Time Unlimited. In 1973, the quartet came under the wing of the seminal producer Lee Perry, who both groomed the group and recorded them. Unfortunately, little of this material was released, but eventually Time Unlimited did score a hit with "Reaction."
A higher profile brought more opportunities, and the group recorded singles for producers Rupie Edwards and Tommy Cowan, although none of these enjoyed the success of "Reaction." The group moved on to work with Bunny Lee, but these sessions went nowhere, and in frustration Hibbert quit the quartet in 1975 to pursue a solo career, changing his moniker to Junior Delgado at the same time. Delgado was his longtime nickname, taken from the Spanish word for skinny.
Initially, Delgado remained in the shadows. Sessions with producer Niney Holness proved equally futile, as did a momentary name change to Jooks. Success only came after the singer moved to Dennis Brown's DEB label and set to work with producer Earl "Chinna" Smith. Their first collaboration, "Tition," bore fruit and set the stage for a string of further hits, including "Famine" and "Devil's Throne," which culminated in Delgado's 1978 debut album, Taste of the Young Heart. The following year, the singer started his own label, Incredible Jux, on which he released his follow-up full-length, Effort.
At the same time, Delgado continued recording singles with other noted producers, including Prince Jammy and Joe Gibbs, and with Augustus Pablo, for whom he cut the crucial "Blackman's Heart Cries Out" and "Away With You Fussing and Fighting" singles. The artist spent the early '80s splitting his time between recording and touring Britain, where he proved as popular as in Jamaica. The More She Love It and Disco Style Showcase albums both appeared in 1981 and found the singer experimenting with the new dancehall style. However, Delgado had not entirely deserted his roots stylings. Reuniting with Perry, Delgado recorded the magnificent "Sons of Slaves" single, Sly & Robbie oversaw the production and laid down the rhythms for the classic "Fort Augustus," while the singer self-produced the equally seminal "Rich Man Poor Man." The latter track was a highlight, alongside "Bush Master M16," of 1982's Bushmaster Revolution album. After a forced hiatus, during which time Delgado spent 18 months in prison, in 1985 he recorded "Broadwater Farm" in London, a fiery single inspired by the crime-ridden and poverty stricken north London housing estate of the same name. Coincidentally enough, soon after the record's release, the estate itself made national headlines, upon suffering the most violent and vicious rioting England had ever experienced in then recent times. Sisters & Brothers was released later that year. More singles quickly followed, most notably "Raggamuffin Year," which reunited Delgado and Augustus Pablo for a celebration of the new raggamuffin style which had emerged from the digital revolution. The song would also title the singer's next album, which was released in 1986.
Delgado and Pablo continued recording together throughout the rest of the '80s, across a string of hit singles and the One More Step album. Delgado self-produced his next full-length, It Takes Two to Tango, as well as several more chart-stomping singles, including "Bus I Skull" and "We a Blood." During this period, the singer also played mentor to White Mice and Yami Bolo, co-producing hits by both artists alongside Pablo. As a new decade dawned, Delgado finally slowed down, releasing only two albums during the '90s. An excellent dub companion to Ragamuffin Year done in collaboration with Pablo appeared early in the decade, while 1998's Fearless proved the singer was precisely that. Featuring a diverse clutch of guest stars, running the musical gamut from the Specials' Jerry Dammers to Faithless rapper Maxi Jazz, trip-hop practitioners Smith & Mighty to top-notch remixers the Jungle Brothers, it was apparent that Delgado's interest in new sounds had not flagged over the years. 1999 brought Reasons, recorded in London under the aegis of seminal On-U producer Adrian Sherwood.
Following the death of longtime friend Dennis Brown, Delgado recorded his own personal tribute to this great singer, simply titled Junior Delgado Sings Dennis Brown. During this time, the singer continued performing live to appreciative crowds on both sides of the Atlantic. Delgado has spent over 25 years in the business, yet his music still resonates with today's youth; in 1999 he appeared at the Glasonbury and Roskilde festivals to widespread adulation. Junior Delgado passed away on April 11, 2005. ~ Jo-Ann Greene, Rovi