Some coaster buses and cars slow their pace at a green light on 135 Orange Street in Kingston on Friday. It’s the home of late singer Dennis Brown, and across the street stands a black, dreadlocked man in an all-black ensemble, with broad nostrils, a full moustache and an easy smile.
Heads crick as he takes photos by Brown’s mural, but Chester Miller remains cool and greets everyone he can. This has been his reality since he performed at the Dennis Brown Tribute Concert one year ago.
“I’ve even seen posts where people say I’m his son, and I don’t know it.”— Chester Miller
“There’s a rumour going on that I’m Dennis Brown’s son. I’ve even seen posts where people say I’m his son, and I don’t know it,” Miller told BUZZ. “I don’t want to reveal my age, but Dennis couldn’t be my father so that throws that rumour out the window. It’s an honour for people to even think that though cause Dennis had an amazing spirit and was always pleasant, encouraging, a people person, and one of the best artistes in terms of his character.”
The striking resemblance between the men is undeniable, as well as Brown’s tremolo style which oozes from Miller’s vocal nuances. He, however, said it isn’t intentional.
After migrating to Canada as a teenager with his parents, a mischievous life led to Miller being expelled from school. His mother sent him to live with his grandmother in Manchester, Jamaica, and it was during this time that he learnt of his local roots, Rastafari and musical interest.
He eventually returned to Canada but came to Jamaica in 1987 where he recorded his first song, Never Run Away, at Channel One Studio. Though he did more recordings, Miller found himself in a lull and started doing small gigs in Toronto. That’s when the comparisons started.
“I was singing on sound systems and Sugar Minott was my artiste, so I’d sing a lot of his music,” he said. “People started telling me I sound like Dennis and I never paid it no mind til people started coming to me and saying I look like Dennis. I started looking into him and everything started flourishing til word got back to Jamaica, and I’d come here to do shows.”
Stamp of approval
But he was also wary of this similarity and never wanted to be seen as an opportunist.
“I embrace it now because after performing at the concert last year people who worked with him told me they love my voice,” he said. “Lloyd Parks who led the Dennis Brown band said he watched me perform and I move like him and it was unconscious. That made me feel more comfortable.”
He also rests easy knowing he got the stamp of approval from Brown himself. The two were introduced by Leroy Sibbles in 1987 and met whenever Brown was in Toronto. Miller said he also spent time at Brown’s Red Hills residence.
“He took me to one of his shows and asked if I’d do a song with him on stage. He actually called for me, but I was far from the stage… I was shocked cause I didn’t think he’d actually do it. He did it a couple times at other shows, and I never go cause I was a lot younger and I was really shy. I feel good to know he embraced what I was doing and gave me courage. I’m privileged to have spent that time with him.”
Miller performed at the Dennis Brown Tribute Concert on Sunday at the Kingston Waterfront. He plans to return to Jamaica in May for a special project spearheaded by show promoter Michael Barnett.