Born on April 30, 1964, in West Kingston, Jamaica. Addresses: Record company--RAS Records, P.O. Box 42517, Washington, D.C. 20015, phone: (301) 588-9641, fax: (301) 588-7108. Website--Barrington Levy Official Website:

Barrington Levy is a star of Jamaican dancehall music. Known as the Mellow Canary of Reggae, he is a natural crooner with a voice that is both loud and lilting. Beginning his career as a protegé of Henry "Junjo" Lawes, Levy remains a trendsetter and a perennial favorite at concerts worldwide, known for his straight-out singing style. While his early career began with dancehall in the 1980s, in the 1990s he helped usher in the "jungle craze" of reggae music, in which deejays used remixes of his music to invent an all-new sound for the new millennium.

Born on April 30, 1964, in West Kingston, Jamaica, Levy spent his formative years in the city's rough Waterhouse neighborhood and in Clarendon. Drawn in his youth to such local reggae musicians as Dennis Brown, Levy was also inspired by American R&B artists like the Jackson 5. In early adolescence, Levy and his cousin Everton Dacres formed a musical combo they called the Mighty Multitude, recording a single, "My Black Girl," in 1975. Levy released his solo debut single, "A Long Time Since We Don't Have No Love," in 1978, and in the same year sang backup vocals for both Byron Lee and the Dragonaires and Barry Biggs.

Joined Junjo Lawes

In the early 1980s, as Jamaican music was evolving from roots and rasta into dancehall, Levy became known for his direct and upbeat vocals, giving audiences a welcome change from the deejay culture that monopolized that venue. Embraced by Junjo Lawes, one of the preeminent producers of the era, in 1979 Levy recorded the single "Ah Yah We Deh." Sales were respectable, setting a precedent for Levy's future success.

After releasing a barrage of singles, Levy recorded Englishman, a recording engineered by an up-and-coming remix artist known as the Scientist. It was released on the Nyam Up label in 1979. Levy's second album Robin Hood was released in 1980 on the British Greensleeves label; the two were rereleased as a double album by Greensleeves in 1997.

With Lawes in charge of production, Levy recorded his hits at Channel One with studio musicians the All-Stars (later known as Roots Radics) singing backup. Levy's international reputation was launched with his hit "Collie Weed," the first in a series of super hits that included "Shine Eye Gal" and "Money Move."

Alvin Ranglin joined Levy's production team in the early 1980s, contributing to the hits "Never Tear My Love Apart" and "You Made Me So Happy." In 1980 and 1981 Levy made back-to-back appearances at the annual Sunsplash Festival while he continued to release hit singles: "Mary Long Tongue," "Too Poor," and "I Have a Problem." His first album of note, Bounty Hunter, appeared in 1982 on Hyman Wright's Jah Life label. Poor Man Style and Teach Me Culture followed in 1983 on Trojan Records and Live & Learn respectively. Levy released four albums in 1984: Shine Eye Gal on Echo Jazz, Barrington Levy Meets Frankie Paul on Arrival, Life Style on Charly, and Barrington Levy on Clock Tower.

Claimed His Fame

When Levy made his live debut in the United Kingdom that year, his trip was highlighted with a win as Best Vocalist at the British Reggae Industry Awards. A subsequent affiliation with producer Jah Screw led to the release of "Under Mi Sensi," which became one of Levy's signature hits. "Here I Come," also from Jah Screw, made its way into Britain's top 50.

After a lackluster attempt to acquire a crossover following into the mainstream, Levy toured North America and the United Kingdom in the late 1980s. During these years he released Love the Life You Live and two Bob Andy covers: "My Time" and "Too Experience." He made annual appearances at Sunsplash from 1987 to 1995, and made a splash of his own while performing at the Caribbean Muzik Festival in the Bahamas in 1993 when, wrote Maurice Mcleod in Voice, he "[took] no prisoners ... [and] made sure that the party was not over until he said so." After signing with Island Records subsidiary Mango in 1991, Levy released his acclaimed Divine album, hitting the British top 20 with the single track, "Tribal Base," featuring Rebel MC and Tenor Fly.

The 1990s and Beyond

Despite a collaboration with reggae artists Sly & Robbie, Levy entered into a brief and disappointing affiliation with MCA Records in 1993. His debut album with that label, Barrington, failed to meet expectations, and reviews such as Andwele Williams's Los Angeles Sentinel comment that the album would, "bump in your trunk" proved to be overstatements. Even the single track, "Work" with Sly & Robbie, was a financial failure on prerelease. Further disappointment greeted the release of two singles, "Nothing's Changed," and "Vice Versa Love." A second album, NBA Jam Session, was released that same year and fared no better. Acknowledging failure, the parties dispersed, citing artistic differences.

Levy rebounded with Jah Screw-produced remixes of "Two Sounds" and "Under Mi Sensi," featuring Beenie Man overdubs with fused drum rhythms and dubbed jungle anthems. These tracks set a new pace for reggae and paved the way for a 1995 production by Levy with Jah Screw, called Duets. Along with Beenie Man and Bounty Killer, the album featured Reggie Stepper and Mega Banton on selected remixes. Additionally, Levy revived his independent Lipstic label briefly in the early 1990s and used the opportunity to release new tracks by Pinchers and Jigsy King.

Levy's fame surged anew in 1996 with the release of "Living Dangerously," a duet with Bounty Killer that soared to the top of dancehall charts worldwide. The song became the title track of a 1998 Breakaway Records compilation album on which Levy shared the spotlight with a variety of stars, including hip-hop's Snoop Dogg and Lady G. In anticipation of Levy's appearance at the Caribbean Muzik Festival that year, Caribbean Today's Howard "Flagga" Duperly called Levy "[t]he man who doesn't even need a band behind him."

Levy's appeal continued into the 2000s. He expanded his touring schedule beyond the West Indies and Great Britain, appearing in Europe and Asia. No reggae festival is deemed complete without his presence.

by G. Cooksey

Barrington Levy's Career

Formed a duo with cousin Everton Dacres, the Mighty Multitude, released first single, "My Black Girl," 1975; released solo debut single, "A Long Time Since We Don't Have No Love," 1978; released debut LP, Englishman, 1979; popularity soared in the United Kingdom, 1980s; signed to MCA record label, 1993; duet with Bounty Killer, "Living Dangerously," became a hit single, 1996; continued to record and perform at reggae festivals, 2000s.

Barrington Levy's Awards

British Reggae Industry Award, Best Vocalist, 1984.

Famous Works

Further Reading



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