Byron Lee, founder of the group Byron Lee and the Dragonaires passed away in 2008 but his band, originally Byron Lee and the Dragonaires, renamed Byron Lee’s Dragonaires, continues to entertain. The band has more than 30 albums to their credit.
“From my mother, who was of African descent, I received the soul, rhythm and love of music and from my father, who was Chinese, I received my shrewd business sense.” Byron Lee
In the 1950s, Lee started playing music with Carl Brady, Ronnie Nasralla, Alty East and Ronald Peralto. They used a door, box for drums, spoons, grater (the kitchen implement, used in mento, traditional Jamaican music) for percussion and Lee’s antique guitar. Their first gig was at St. George’s College from which they had graduated. They continued playing parties, weddings and school dances until 1957 when they turned professional.
Lee was a both a musician and a businessman, and from the start presented a band that was well dressed, took minimum breaks, played good music and gave its audiences their money’s worth.
Byron Lee and the Dragonaires became one of the best ska bands of the 1960. In 1961, they were cast as a hotel band in James Bond’s Dr. No that was filmed in Jamaica and in 1964, Byron Lee and the Dragonaires represented Jamaica at the New York World’s Fair.
In 1965, Lee who was also known as the Dragon, began incorporating calypso in the band’s repertoire and touring Trinidad & Tobago and other islands. They performed for the first time in Trinidad’s annual carnival in 1974. In the 1970s, Byron Lee and the Dragonaires were better known in the rest of the Caribbean, which played largely calypso music, than they were in Jamaica, where reggae dominated the airwaves.
Take a listen to Ragga Ragga.
In 1990, thanks to Lee’s efforts, Jamaica had its first carnival.
“This is a dream I have nurtured for years and the right time is now. I wouldn’t be a Jamaican if I didn’t try to bring to my country, some of that happiness I see Carnival brings to other people.”
Byron Lee lives on in the music of his band, Byron Lee’s Dragonaires.