Obituary: Edward Seaga, Jamaican politician, music producer, 89


 Edward Seaga, right, clasping hands with Michael Manley, left, and Bob Marley during the One Love concert at the national stadium in Kingston, Jamaica, on 22 April 1978. Photograph: Adrian Boot/Camera Press

28 May 2019 | Peter Mason | The Guardian

One of the most enduring images of modern Jamaica, captured in many photographs and on video, is of the moment in 1978 when the reggae musician Bob Marley persuaded the country’s two warring political heavyweights, Edward Seaga and Michael Manley, to hold hands on stage during his One Love concert at the national stadium in Kingston.

Seaga, who has died aged 89, looked as uneasy as Manley at having to take part in such a gesture of rapprochement. But, like his opponent, he tried hard to force a smile and to go with the moment.

Marley was, after all, a hugely influential figure in Jamaica and was at least attempting to put a stop to the terrible gun violence that had lately been fuelled by the two men’s bitter struggle for political supremacy.

For a time the Marley-inspired hand-holding had its intended effect, and the political killings slowed down. But only when Seaga won power from Manley two years later did the country manage a return to anything like its normal balance.


Seaga’s election as prime minister in 1980 marked a critical moment in the island’s history; one that broke the left-leaning consensus of its post-independence politics and set the country on a more conservative path that gained the approval of allies such as Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. Seaga’s Jamaica Labour party (JLP), which had originally emerged from the island’s trade union movement, had been part of that consensus until he took over as its leader.

With Manley’s People’s National party (PNP) intent on a steadfastly non-aligned socialist course, Seaga decided that the country must make a rightward shift under his leadership.

As soon as he became prime minister he pursued a domestic agenda of privatisation and deregulation, while in foreign policy he realigned Jamaica firmly with the west, including through support for the US invasion of Grenada and the severing of links with Cuba.

By the time Seaga lost power in 1989 he had changed the local landscape to such a degree that even the PNP was unwilling to return to the leftist ground it had once occupied.

But many of those in the electorate who had overwhelmingly supported the JLP’s new direction in the 1980s came to feel that at best his policies had made little difference to the country’s fortunes, and at worst had exacerbated already yawning inequalities across the nation. While he continued with the JLP as leader of the opposition until 2005, he was unable to become prime minister again.

Seaga was born in Boston, Massachusetts, where his wealthy Jamaican parents, Philip Seaga, a businessman of Lebanese descent, and his wife, Erna (nee Maxwell), of mixed European and African heritage, had been living at the time of his birth.

When their son was three months old they returned to Jamaica, where Edward attended the Wolmer’s boys’ school in Kingston before returning to the US to study at Harvard University, gaining a degree in social sciences in 1952.


On returning to Jamaica in 1955 he did anthropological research and oversaw the recording of an album of the island’s music on the Folkways label. That led him to produce more commercially minded recording sessions by local artists for other companies, and in 1959 he set up his own label, West Indies Recording Limited (WIRL), which kickstarted the early 1960s boom in home-grown ska music.

In tandem with his business ventures, Seaga had also begun a political career in 1959 when Sir Alexander Bustamante, the trade union leader and founder of the JLP, appointed him at the age of 29 to serve as a JLP representative on the legislative council, a body charged with establishing a framework for Jamaican independence from Britain.

When self-rule finally came in 1962, he was elected a JLP member of parliament for the Western Kingston constituency as his party won a majority in the new parliament. By then other Jamaican musical entrepreneurs such as Clement Dodd were taking the ska revolution a step further and Seaga, now consumed by political duties as a cabinet minister responsible for development and welfare, decided to sell WIRL to the musician Byron Lee.

He did, however, remain a champion of Jamaican music, and one of his first acts as a minister was to arrange for ska artists such as Prince Buster and Peter Tosh to appear at a World Fair in New York.

When the JLP were returned to power in 1967, Seaga was promoted to become minister of finance and planning, in which role he set up the Jamaica stock exchange and created Jamaica Citizens Bank, the first Jamaican majority-owned commercial bank. Manley and the PNP won the 1972 election, and two years later Seaga became JLP leader.

He proved to be a trenchant critic of Manley’s commitment to what the JLP often termed “communist” programmes, including nationalisation, the introduction of a minimum wage, social housing projects, land reforms and a closer friendship with Cuba.

The arguments between the two became so polarised across the PNP’s two terms from 1972 to 1980 that the political conflict began to manifest itself in an upsurge of street violence between armed gangs loyal to each party, with allegations from PNP supporters that the CIA was stirring up trouble on the JLP’s behalf.

Gunfights raged with frightening regularity and many hundreds died. In 1976 the general election was conducted in a state of national emergency and even after the intervention in 1978 of Marley, who had himself survived an assassin’s bullet, the situation remained dire. During 1980, more than 800 people were killed as a result of political violence – on an island with a population of just over 2 million.

Edward Seaga playing dominoes in Kingston, 1984.
 Edward Seaga playing dominoes in Kingston, 1984. Photograph: Jodi Cobb/National Geographic/Getty Images

Manley had gambled by calling an early election that year. But his charismatic appeal to the electorate had waned dramatically in the face of high inflation and large scale unemployment, allied to a borrowing agreement with the International Monetary Fund in 1978 that had curtailed his room for action. Voters were asked to choose between what the Jamaica Gleaner characterised as “Manley the consummate socialist and Seaga the avowed capitalist”.

The result was a 51-9 seat landslide for Seaga, whose election slogan had been “Deliverance is near”. Rather suspiciously for some observers, the violence quickly receded after Seaga’s victory.

As public order was restored and a healing process began, Seaga, who always maintained that his pro-market policies had the welfare of poor people at heart, embarked on a programme to reverse much of Manley’s work, including through privatisation, the loosening of exchange controls, a dismantling of some social programmes, and tax breaks for foreign investors.

He also swung Jamaica firmly into the US camp, taking advantage of generous amounts of aid released by Reagan, who embraced Seaga as a capitalist beacon in a rather suspect Caribbean Sea.

When a revolution in Grenada prompted the US invasion in 1983, Seaga swiftly provided support from Jamaican troops and then called a snap election – two years early – to capitalise on any popularity he might have gained from the move. Manley and the PNP, outraged that electoral rolls had not even been updated, refused to contest the elections, and while some minor parties stood in six of the seats, the rest were walkovers. The JLP won all 60 constituencies on a turnout of just 2.7%, ushering in a period of one-party government that dented Jamaica’s democratic credentials.

A workaholic who was reluctant to delegate responsibility, Seaga used his unassailable position to take on a huge portfolio that added the finance and defence briefs to his prime ministerial duties. But his one-man show made little headway against poverty and unemployment, and in the long run he was as unable as Manley to get a grip on the debt-ridden economy. In 1989 the Jamaican people, tired of the journey he had taken them on – and angry at what they saw as an incompetent response to the ravages of Hurricane Gilbert in 1988 – returned the PNP to government.

Edward Seaga at a Jamaican Labour party rally in Montego Bay in the 2002 election campaign.
 Edward Seaga at a Jamaican Labour party rally in Montego Bay in the 2002 election campaign. 

Seaga failed to win another election over the next decade or so, but he took some comfort from the fact that his nine years in power had forced first Manley and then his PNP successors to adopt a more moderate approach both in opposition and in office. Thereafter Jamaican politicians at least found it easier to locate some kind of middle ground.

Under Seaga the JLP lost heavily in the 1993 and 1997 elections, then more marginally in 2002, by which time his retention of the leadership position after more than 30 years had become an issue within the party. The last of Jamaica’s founding political fathers, a generation with forceful personalities and combative outlooks, he stepped down both as JLP leader and an MP in 2005. Two years later his JLP successor, Bruce Golding, was elected as prime minister at the first time of asking in the 2007 election.

In retirement Seaga settled down to write two lengthy volumes of political memoirs and to further nurture his interest in Jamaican folklore, including through an honorary research position with the University of West Indies.

He was twice married: in 1965 to Mitsy (Marie) Constantine, a former television presenter and Miss Jamaica, from whom he was divorced in 1995, and then to Carla Vendryes, a sociology researcher, in 1996.

He is survived by Carla, by their daughter, Gabrielle, and by three children from his first marriage, Christopher, Andrew and Anabella.

 Edward Phillip George Seaga, politician, born 28 May 1930; died 28 May 2019

The Frats Quintet, Nina Simone, and Edward Seaga

14 May 2018 | Foundation SKA

The Frats Quintet were a vocal group popular in the 1950s in Jamaica who sang traditional folk music that is still performed today. Songs like “Linstead Market” “Sammy Dead-Oh” and “Slide Mongoose” (also titled “Sly Mongoose” at times or just “Mongoose”) are staples of the Jamaican culture. One of the very first recordings of these songs came from the Frats Quintet and Edward Seaga, who had been researching and recording folk traditions during this time, had his hand in helping to put these songs in people’s homes, or at least those who owned a record player.

Two years earlier, in 1956, Seaga had recorded and released his “Folk Music of Jamaica” recording with the Smithsonian. This came as a result of his study of revivalist cults including Pukkumina, Kumina, and Zion. He had been speaking to organizations in Jamaica upon his return from studying in the United States, having obtained a degree in anthropology from Harvard in 1952. Perhaps he was getting his feet wet for a political career, as he entered this arena in 1959 as the youngest member in history of the Legislative Council, appointed by Sir Alexander Bustamante (nick-namesake of Prince Buster). He then became elected to Parliament in 1962 for the West Kingston district and was appointed  to the Cabinet as Minister of Development and Welfare where he championed Jamaican arts, music, and culture, especially in the name of tourism. Of course, he later went on to become fifth prime minister of Jamaica in the 1980s. I am writing a book this summer on Seaga’s role in the promotion of ska during the post-independence years, as well as all of the efforts during this time to establish Jamaican identity through ska.

I came across this short article in the Jamaica Gleaner from June 10, 1958 that announces this Frats Quintet recording, which was recorded in Kingston, but pressed in the United States.

seaga article cut.jpg

Here are a few photos of that actual album:




The following is an article from the Daily Gleaner that provides some more information about this important vocal group. Of particular interest, at least to me, was the memory of Nina Simone:

Remembering the Frats Quintet

Published: Wednesday | July 22, 2009

Members of the 1950s group Frats Quintet from left, Henry Richards, Winston White, Granville Lindo, Sydney Clarke and the only surviving member, Wilfred Warner (back). – Contributed The following is an article on 1950s Jamaican folk group Frats Quintet.It was written by Patrick Warner, the son of one of the group’s members, and previously appeared in Canada’s Abeng News.

In the years before reggae, rocksteady and ska put Jamaica on the world musical map, mento and folk ruled the roost and the top folk exponents of the day were the Frats Quintet.

None of the Frats Quintet members were formally trained in voice dynamics. They sang for the love and appreciation of the art and a fondness for the songs, the majority of which originated from the plantations and from the hearts of the slaves who would sing as they worked. Since work time conversation was not allowed, music not only entertained and made work more tolerable, but messages were conveyed in song. Even post-Emancipation songs were composed and sung in the same manner to make heavy work light, while some songs reflected the social order of the day.

Before the Frats Quintet, there was the Young Men Fraternal. Their home base was the East Queen Street Baptist Church under the baton of J.J. Williams. Back in the day, it was the largest men’s choral group in Jamaica, and the sound they produced could make your hair stand on end or bring you to tears. A Sunday night evensong at the church was a treat not to be missed.

As a child, I can clearly remember visiting the Baptist Church a few times to hear the Young Men’s Fraternal sing to a packed house on a Sunday night. They would always be elegantly dressed in their vicuña cream jackets, white Oxford shirts, black bow ties and black trousers. The overflowing audience would take their places anywhere that offered a good vantage point; some were content to just listen.

It was from this group that the Frats Quintet was formed in 1951. The five, young men, Sydney Clarke, Henry Richards, Granville Lindo, Winston White and my father, Wilfred Warner, travelled the length and breadth of the island on a busy schedule, in addition to working their full-time jobs.

Household name

“Over the period of one year, we must have performed in every parish and major town in the island, as well as overseas,” muses my dad, the sole survivor of the group. “We rehearsed in the evenings after work, because our weekends were solidly booked at the hotels, and on Sunday, the services.” He never hesitates to add confidentially: “I met your mother at a performance in Savana-la-Mar you know.”

The group became a household name in Jamaica in the ’50s, doing ads on the radio (who could forget Ajax, the foaming cleanser?), and travelling the world, representing Jamaica on the international music scene. Some well-known songs from their repertoire included Linstead Market, the lament of the vendor as her provisions return unsold from the market, Shine-Eye Gal (she want, and she want, and she want everything!), Sammy Dead-Oh, and Nobody’s Business, which Peter Tosh retooled to the popular reggae beat.

I can remember once attending a night function at my elementary school where the quintet was to perform, and the police had to be called to restore order as a stampede occurred outside the school grounds. The concert was sold out, and spectators were positioned in trees just to hear Jamaican folk music. It was a night to remember.

There was always music in the home; I would be doing homework to the sound of folk music or negro spirituals from the rehearsals, and when those rehearsals were over, my father would exercise the double bass of his vocal chords loudly enough to wake the dead. Perhaps, with this immersion, there was absolutely no way I could avoid becoming a member of The Jamaica Folk Singers later on, but that was a different era.

The Frats Quintet also became the musical ensemble on and offstage for the National Dance Theatre Company, and their crisp trademark a cappella interspersed the scenes in a few of our pantomimes.

Most memorable recording

The quintet also ushered in Jamaica’s Independence celebrations, and sang their way into a few televisions around the island to welcome the now-defunct JBC TV. One of the group’s most memorable recordings, according to my dad, was providing the backup for late Soprano Joyce Laylor when they recorded the timeless Jamaican classic Evening Time, a celebration of the end of the workday, the setting sun and the cool evening breeze.

“You could feel the energy in the studio,” he beams, “and we were so in sync together, even the first take was exceptional.” My father is fond of reminding me that, in those days, there was no fooling around in the recording studio, as all artistes had to perform together on a single track. “It had to be perfect the first time,” he reflects.

The most disappointing moment for the group? Although the exact date is not clear in his mind – he remembers the late 60s – my father still has an angry glint in his eyes when he recalls jazz diva Nina Simone being booed onstage by an unappreciative audience at the Carib Theatre. Apparently, the quintet had warmed the stage for her, and when she appeared, the audience expected her to open with one of her more popular numbers. When she didn’t, they did not hesitate to voice their disappointment. Father still bristles, he says, with the shame.

The Frats Quintet took Jamaican folk songs on the international stage, performing at UN functions in New York, Expo ’67 in the Jamaican Pavilion and before world dignitaries in Montreal, the popular Eistedfod Music Festival in Wales (1958) where they copped a second-place award, and while in Britain gave a command performance for Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip.

Later, there was another performance on tap for Princess Alice, the then Chancellor for the University of the West Indies, and the group also performed on many occasions in Cuba, much to the delight of Fidel Castro. As Jamaica’s musical ambassadors, they performed for visiting dignitaries at state functions and dinners.

For my father, the ire of the Nina Simone episode is only eclipsed by the much-publicised disappearance of audio and video material from the JBC archives. “So much of our rich cultural history – gone just like that,” he snaps, full of emotion, and suddenly, the fire is gone from his eyes. At least in his head he still has the folk songs he can remember.

 The Jamaican delegates to the 1964 World’s Fair in New York City, ready to head to Palisadoes Airport on April 16, 1964. From left to right in the front we have Jimmy Cliff, Eric “Monty” Morris, and Alphonso Castro. Standing from left to right is Prince Buster, Linda Jack, Roy Willis, Sonia Blake, Byron Lee, Janet Phillips, Carol Crawford, Ronnie Nasrala, Beverley Neath, and Ken Khouri.

Edward Seaga | All

Edward Seaga went from being one of the most important and successful producers and record company owners in Jamaica to become Prime Minister of his country — probably the only recording executive ever to be elected a head of state. Along the way, he set the stage for the 1960s boom in ska, and the explosion of interest in reggae music in the ’70s.

Born in Boston to a Jamaican-Lebanese family, Seaga graduated from Harvard University in 1952 with a B.A. in Social Sciences.

In 1955, he supervised the recording of an album of ethnic music on the Folkways label, a project that grew out of scholarly research that he’d been engaged in. This whetted his appetite to do more with music, and he later produced sessions by Jamaican artists for more commercial recording organizations. Seaga founded his own label, WIRL (West Indies Recording Limited), in the late 50s, and among his first signings was the Trench Town singing duo of Joe Higgsand Roy Wilson.

WIRL scored a huge hit in 1959 with their first single, “Manny O,” a ska single that sold 30,000 copies. Seaga‘s other artists included Byron Lee & the Dragonaires and Slim SmithSeaga‘s company soon became the most successful recording organization in Jamaica and the West Indies, helped by the fact that, in contrast to virtually every other recording organization in the islands in the late ’50s, he saw to it that his artists were paid, and paid well for their hit records. In a country as stricken with poverty as Jamaica, and still struggling to achieve independence and respect, this counted for a huge amount and made Seaga stand out as an entrepreneur in the music business.

In 1959, the same year that WIRL broke out as a business, Seaga‘s formal political career began when Sir Alexander Bustamante, the founder of the Jamaica Labour Party, nominated him to serve in the Upper House of the Jamaica Legislature (later the Senate) — his appointment at 29 made him the youngest member in the history of the Legislative Council.

Seaga became a key architect of the constitution that became the framework for Jamaican independence in August 1962. Already recognized as a passionate defender of the poor, and a fiery orator capable of moving voters or his fellow legislators, Seaga became an elected member of Parliament in April 1962, representing Western Kingston. He is the longest serving member of Jamaica’s Parliament, having been re-elected for 37 consecutive years.

Upon winning his Parliamentary seat, Seaga was appointed to the Cabinet of the newly independent nation as Minister of Development and Welfare. It was in that capacity that he helped facilitate the spread of ska far beyond the boundaries of the West Indies.

The New York World’s Fair was about to open, and he saw a unique opportunity. He arranged for Prince Buster, Roy Willis, Eric MorrisPeter Tosh, and Byron Lee and the Dragonaires to perform at the World’s Fair, in an extended engagement (also featuring the 1963 Miss World, Carol Joan Crawford, also from Jamaica) that additionally allowed these artists to play in Manhattan, bringing ska to the patrons of several of the city’s most celebrated night clubs.

Other recording entrepreneurs had come along in the interim, most notably Clement Seymour (“Sir Coxsone”) Dodd, cutting music by the Wailersthe Skatalites, and other artists whose sound was less mainstream than Lee and Higgs, and more radical than WIRL’s output. Seaga‘s WIRL, however, remained profitable and influential as a source of popular, mainstream-oriented ska.

Sometime after the World’s Fair showcase took place, Seaga sold WIRL to Byron Lee, who renamed it Dynamic Sounds Recording, and turned it into one of the most popular studios in the world, for international stars ranging from Paul Simon to Eric ClaptonSeaga‘s formal involvement in music was over after the mid-’60s, but the impact of his work has extended for decades.

The resulting boom in tourism coming off the World’s Fair activities was more than Seaga could have hoped for, but the cultural consequences were nothing less than enormous. Ska was already getting heard around the world in the guise of Millie Small‘s infectious hit “My Boy Lollipop,” but the introduction of ska to New York audiences and media — the Clay Cole Show, which was then only slightly less influential than American Bandstand, even ran a film clip about the music — helped extend the music’s reach immeasurably. It laid the groundwork for the explosion of interest in reggae in the United States seven years later, and made it easier for artists like Bob Marley to find an audience in America.

Seaga‘s career was confined to politics from the mid-’60s onward. He took on the more prominent job of Minister of Finance and Planning in 1967, and in 1974 Seaga assumed the post of leader of the Jamaica Labor Party, which made him official leader of the opposition party in Parliament. This set the stage for his elevation to Prime Minister following the 1980 elections — he was re-elected without opposition in 1983. In addition to holding the Prime Minister’s job, Seaga also held the portfolio for Information and Culture.

His establishment of the Jamaica Festival gave the music and culture of the island an annual showcase, and he is responsible for numerous successful anti-poverty, urban redevelopment, and educational aid programs that have helped some of the poorest of his constituents, in his home district and also on the island at large. He has served on the boards of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, and been given awards by countries throughout North America (including the United States) and South America, as well as Europe, and remains a potent political figure in Jamaica 40 years after his entry into politics.

The legacy of his musical activity, however, both directly and indirectly, can be found in virtually every major record store in the United States, Europe, and Asia.


Edward Seaga | 10 Things About The Former Prime Minister

30 May 2019 | Jamaica Gleaner

Former Prime Minister Edward Seaga dedicated almost half of a century to public service.

Seaga died in a Miami hospital today at the age of 89.

He had been battling cancer.

Here are 10 things about him you should know:

1.      At the age of 29, he was the youngest person to be nominated to the Legislative Council (later the Senate)

2.      Was the longest serving Member of Parliament retiring after 43 years as the Kingston Western representative

3.      Was Opposition Leader from 1974 to 1980 and 1989 to 2006

4.      Served as Prime Minister from 1980-1989

5.      Responsible for the decimalisation of the Jamaican currency

6.      Received the Order of the Nation in 2002

7.      Retired as a parliamentarian in 2005

8.      Served as JLP leader for 31 years

9.      Was married twice

10.   Was the father of four children



West Kingston remembers Edward Seaga

join the Hawkins Bay Revolution
before it is too late


James Porteous

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