After enduring a prolonged illness, Lester Sterling, a prominent saxophonist from Jamaica and a founding member of the iconic band The Skatalites, died in the United States at the age of 87.
The news was made by Olivia Grange, Minister of Culture, Gender, Entertainment, and Sport, at the Jamaica Pegasus Hotel’s One Blood concert premiere. Grange told the crowd that Sterling wanted to be buried in his native country.
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Minister Grange stated, “Lester Sterling, one of the original members of the Skatalites passed this morning early in the US. It was just the day before I was having a discussion about him. I had been called by former Prime Minister PJ Patterson to say that Lester Sterling was not in good shape and they were expecting him to pass at any time but he wanted his remains to come back to Jamaica. That’s how committed and nationalistic he was about his country. And, Mr. Patterson wanted to know if I could make the arrangements for this to happen. And, I told him ‘Yes’. So when I got the word this morning that he had passed, I had already put some things in place.”
The Minister continued, “I just want to use the opportunity to express my condolences to his family and to say that we will be bringing his remains back to Jamaica and we will have him interred here,” Grange added.
On the dreadful day of Sterling’s passing, the band, through its Facebook page, informed fans that the legendary saxophonist is no longer with us.
The band states, “It’s a sad day for all of us with the passing of our legendary founder and original saxophonist Lester ‘Ska’ Sterling. Our heart goes out to the family, the fans and to all who were very close to him. We celebrate his greatness and his contribution of being one of the pioneers of Ska and reggae music. He has left a legacy for now and future generations to follow and we will continue to preserve it stage by stage.”
Sterling was the only living survivor of the original Skatalites hornsmen. He received the order of distinction in 1988 for his part in ska and reggae music’s rise to popularity.
The musicians Doreen Shaffer, Rolando Alphonso, Tommy McCook, Lester Sterling, Lloyd Brevett, Lloyd Knibb, Don Drummond, Jah Jerry Haynes, Jackie Mittoo, Johnny Moore, and Lloyd Knibb were the Skatalites’ founders. Lester Sterling, who passed away in 2023, was also a founding member.
The Skatalites first performed between 1963 and 1965, and at that time they also recorded several of their best-known songs, including Guns of Navarone. They got back together in 1983 and have been performing ever since. Additionally, they contributed to Prince Buster’s recordings and provided support for many other Jamaican artists that released music at the time, including the legendary Bob Marley & The Wailers on their first track Simmer Down produced by Clement “Coxsone” Dodd in the year 1963.