Burning Spear Biography

Musician(1945–)
Reggae musician Burning Spear, also known as Winston Rodney, OD, is a Bob Marley protégé whose hits include "Door Peep" and "Slavery Days."

Synopsis

Reggae musician Burning Spear (also known as Winston Rodney) was born in Saint Ann's Bay, Saint Ann, Jamaica, in 1945. After befriending Bob Marley in the mid-1960s, Spear was directed to the famed Kingston record label Studio One, where he launched his career in 1969 with the single "Door Peep." A pioneer in roots-reggae, Spear has often reflected the aspirations and challenges that shaped the lives of his fellow Jamaicans. He's won two Grammy awards for Best Reggae Album, including 2009's Jah Is Real.

Early Career

Burning Spear, also known as Winston Rodney, was born on March 1, 1945, in Saint Ann's Bay, Saint Ann, Jamaica—the same town where Bob Marley and Jamaican political hero Marcus Garvey grew up. Both men had a profound impact on Spear's life and work.

A Marley protégé and a leading figure in roots-reggae music, Burning Spear launched his career in 1969. It had come in no small part thanks to Marley. The two had met a few years before at Marley's farm, where Spear was hauling supplies for the musician, and the two began to talk about music. Marley eventually directed Burning Spear to the label under which he recorded, Kingston's well-known Studio One records. Around that time, he selected Burning Spear as his stage name. The nickname had originated with Kenyan nationalist and eventual president Daniel Arap Moi, a hero of Burning Spear's, and he used it in his honor.

Commercial Success

At Studio One, Burning Spear worked with musical partners Rupert Willington and Delroy Hines. In 1969, the trio released its first single, "Door Peep." Other songs followed, with material being written and performed primarily by Burning Spear. At the heart of his music was the everyday plight of his fellow Jamaicans. Tapping into a new genre of reggae known as roots-reggae, Burning Spear sang about the challenges and aspirations of his home country.

In the mid-1970s, Burning Spear moved to Island Records and his career soon took off. His early success was anchored by his first album with Island, 1975's Marcus Garvey. The record eloquently touched on social themes and historical issues that resonated with Jamaican listeners in ways his previous work hadn't. By the late 1970s, Burning Spear, who had broken off from Willington and Hines, had proven to be popular with U.K. audiences. But his career, like so many other reggae artists, has had its challenges. Business management issues plagued his him, as did struggles with record executives. To gain more creative freedom, Burning Spear launched his self-titled label in the early 1980s.

Since that time, Burning Spear has been nominated for several Grammy awards in the Best Reggae Album category. In 1999, he won the award for Calling Rastafari. He repeated the accomplishment 10 years later with Jah Is Real.

"I'm getting deeper and deeper, saying what I have to say through the music," he said in a 2009 interview. "I come to the realization about all the good things with music I've done for so many different people all over the world. They feel it, they embrace it, they love it, and they live with it for so many years and still expect me to always present to them that quality and that kind of music, so it's working."

Burning Spear lives in New York City.

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