Past Alpha student Owen Gray is one of Jamaica’s foundation singers.
Owen Gray, born 5 July 1939, is one of Jamaica’s foundation singers whose work spans the R&B, ska, rocksteady, and reggae eras. He has been credited as Jamaica’s first home-grown singing star. Gray won his first talent contest at the age of nine, and by the age of twelve he was already appearing in public, playing drums, guitar, and keyboards. He attended the Alpha Boys School and was a dynamic performer on stage.
He was the first singer to praise a sound system on record, with his “On the Beach” celebrating Clement Dodd’s Sir Coxsone Downbeat system in 1959, one of the first releases on Dodd’s Studio One label. He was one of the first artists to be produced by Chris Blackwell, in 1960, and his “Patricia” single was the first record ever released by Island Records.
His first single, “Please Let Me Go”, reached the top of the charts in Jamaica, and featured a guitar solo from Ernest Ranglin (Ranglin’s first recording session). The single also sold well in the United Kingdom, as did subsequent releases, prompting Gray to emigrate there in 1962. He toured Europe in 1964, and by 1966 he was well known as a soul singer as well as for his ska songs.