With a singing and recording career spanning over five decades, Eric Donaldson, affectionately called ‘Mr. Festival’, continues to be a major force in the reggae industry.
Donaldson, who won the popular Jamaica Festival Song Contest for an unmatched seven times, will launch his new album, I Am In Love, in April and will also enter the Festival Contest later in the year.
The song, Cherry Oh Baby, which won the contest in 1971, is his most popular work, with several international recording artistes doing covers.
Donaldson’s recording career started in 1964 with the group, the West Indians, under the guidance of producer, JJ Johnson, with songs such as; Oh Lord, Why Lord, Bring It On Home to Me, and the memorable hit, Right On Time.
He was born in the St. Catherine community of Pleasant Hill, and had his early upbringing in the nearby Kent Village.
Donaldson was encouraged by community persons who heard him singing at a church in Barbican, St. Andrew. Since then Donaldson’s confidence grew, and at the age of 14, he started to write and sing.
After the West Indians broke up, Donaldson bought a guitar and taught himself to play. “I got in like 10 to 12 in the nights, take up my guitar, and played music up to three in the mornings,” he said.
For more than two years, he locked himself away from the crowd, making sure that what he wrote and voiced were in harmony.
After he returned to the road in 1971, he heard about the Festival Contest, and Cherry Oh Baby, which was refused by a producer, was submitted.
Apart from Cherry Oh Baby, he won the Festival competition in 1977 with Sweet Jamaica; Land of My Birth, 1978; Proud to be Jamaican, 1984; Big It Up, 1993; Join the Line, 1995, and Peace and Love, 1997.
“Festival put me on the track so that I could do my thing,” Donaldson said adding that he maintains a busy overseas schedule, visiting countries in Europe, Southern and West Africa.
His advice to recording artistes is: “Sing songs with logic, because the songs are like education to the people. Music must bring love and joy to the people,” he argues.
February is being celebrated as Reggae Month, and the Government, through the Ministry of Culture, is staging several activities to observe the event and to recognise the artistes, particularly the veterans, who have taken reggae internationally.