Roman Stewart

Roman Stewart: A Biography

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 four albums to his credit: Running Away From Love (1978), How Can I Love Someone (1979), Ruling And Controlling (1987) and Wisdom Of Solomon (2001). He also has an album of duets with his brother Tinga called Brother To Brother.

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.