Like his music, details on Roman's life aren't always easy
to find. Roman was born in 1957, the younger brother of the well-known
singer Tinga Stewart. As a kid, Roman would sing down at the pier where
the cruise ships docked. His friend Freddie McGregor — who would later
become a great reggae singer as well — collected the money that people
tossed at the two youths. Roman's first recording was in 1968 when he was just 11
years old: a record called "Walking Down The Street".
Roman's career really began in the early 1970s after he
cut songs for producers Glen Brown ("Never Too Young To Learn") and Derrick Harriott ("Changing Times", a duet with the up and coming Dennis Brown). His real breakthrough
came in 1974 with the Festival winning "Hooray Festival", written
by his brother Tinga. His next big hit came in 1976 with the aptly-titled
"Hit Song" (AKA "Natty Sing Hit Songs") for producer Tommy Cowan. Roman then
went on to record many great tunes for producers such as Phil Pratt, Linval
Thompson, and Everton Da Silva as well as many obscure producers. Perhaps
his best known tune is "Rice And Peas", cut for Linval Thompson
in 1979. Roman recorded over 70 singles and has five albums to his
credit: Running Away From Love (1978), How Can I Love Someone (1979), Ruling And Controlling (1987), Diplomat (1991), and Wisdom Of Solomon
(2001). He also recorded two albums with his brother Tinga, Brother
To Brother and Break Down The Barrier.
Roman moved from Jamaica to New York in 1976. He kept
his singing career going for the rest of 1970s and into the next decade, recording the excellent Running Away From Love LP for producer Byron Whitely. As a
performer, Roman was always a treat to watch — as one reviewer wrote,
Roman was a "cyclone of dreadlocks" on stage. He earned the
nickname "Mr. Special", not only for his stage presence, but
for being very polite and friendly to everyone he met. The story goes that while
living in New York he was well-known for simply "hanging out"
at recording studios and record shops, and it would sometimes lead to
a record being cut. Quite often he would perform for free at charity events
or when his good friends Dennis Brown and Freddie McGregor were putting
on a concert. He also would show up at house parties and sing acapella
for the delighted guests. His last great set of songs were recorded for Gussie Prenton (AKA Gussie P) on his Sip A Cup label.
Sadly, Roman Stewart is no longer with us. Despite his jocular personality, he tragically became a heavy user of alcohol and drugs, and the harsh lifestyle eventually took its toll. He died in January
2004 in New York after a heart attack. And true to his tune "Natty
Sing Hit Songs", he was on stage singing one of his hits when he suddenly cut his performance short, complaining of chest pains. Roman Stewart died of heart failure the next day. His works live on.