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ROMAN STEWART 1957 - 2004

Natty sang hit songs


Courtesy of Reggaephotos.com

Reggae stalwart Roman Stewart, the younger brother of well-known reggae artist Tinga Stewart, died in New York on January 25th of a massive heart attack. He would have been 47 in May.

"I'm going to miss him dearly. I'm down right now," a grieving Tinga Stewart told the Jamaica Observer. "He was so jovial. Everybody loves him. You can't do Roman anything for him to be upset." According to Tinga, Roman had gone to see a performance by Freddie McGregor in New York on a Saturday night, after which he left to attend a birthday party where he sang two songs. When he was about to perform the third song, he put the microphone down, complaining of chest pains. He later collapsed and was rushed to hospital in a coma.

Stewart regained consciousness after an operation lasting several hours and is reported to have said: "If I get through this, I'm going to change my life." However, Stewart, who was known for his heavy drinking and substance abuse, went into a second coma and did not recover. He was buried in New York on January 31st.

Roman Stewart 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 famous reggae singer as well) collected the money that people tossed at them. 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 and Derrick Harriott. 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"). 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, but only has a few albums to his name, including Running Away From Love (1978) and Wisdom Of Solomon (2001). He also has an album of duets with his brother Tinga called Brother To Brother.

"I'm going to miss him dearly."
- Tinga Stewart

Roman moved from Jamaica to New York in 1976, but he kept his singing career going for the rest of 1970s and into the 80s. 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 a really nice guy 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 everyone. Sadly, there has never been an anthology or "best of" collection; perhaps his death will trigger such a release in the future. Until then, Roman's best work remains scattered on a variety of records and a few CD collections.

Roman never recorded for Scratch, but there are some footnotes in his career that have a Lee Perry connection. His 1973 tune "Arab And Israelite" was produced by Prince Tony Robinson using Scratch's "What A Confusion" rhythm. "Fire At Your Heel" (produced by Phil Pratt) was recorded at the Black Ark. Finally, Roman's superb "Man Of Dignity" (produced by Enos McCloud) was released on a Black Art 7". Tinga Stewart also recorded two excellent tunes at the Black Ark, the rare "Black Man Time", with Brent Dowe and the even rarer "Sing Along Song".

Veteran crooner Ken Boothe testified to Stewart's vocal ability. "He was a very good singer," Boothe told the Observer. "I'm going to miss him a lot."

March 2004 (with additional material December 2005)