Iconic artist manager Copeland Forbes has expressed dismay that the role of singer Beverley Kelso’s critical role in the formation of the original Wailers, whose “high-pitched background vocals” is credited with “providing the perfect balance to the group’s sound,” has constantly been overlooked.
On January 29, Forbes shared a video on Facebook of Kelso stating, amid tears, that Bob Marley’s children had forgotten her during a function held in her honor in Kingston last December.
Kelso, alongside Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, Bunny Wailer, Junior Braithwaite, and Cherry Smith, formed The Wailers in 1962.
“Bob Marley children is still alive. They don’t remember me, but without me they wouldn’t be here without me not one of them would be here. And I meet somebody that stand with me over the years. He never failed me yet. And this why I’m standing here right now along with my brothers and sisters. I may not know all of you but I love my Jamaican and my friends and my family that stand with me. And I’m so happy to be here thank you. Thank everyone that is here with me tonight. God bless you all,” Kelso had said at the function which was staged by philanthropist and blogger, Claude “Big Stone” Sinclair.
Kelso’s references to Bob Marley’s children appear to be in light of the fact that, apart from singing, she was the one who not only introduced Rita Marley to legendary music producer Clement ‘Coxson’ Dodd, but was also the one credited with bringing the One Draw artist in “into contact with Bob Marley” according to historical records.
In conveying his own disappointment, Forbes asked his followers for their thoughts on what Kelso had said “especially at this time when a very important movie (Bob Marley: One Love) is about to be released”, even as he pointed out that it was a travesty that Kelso had virtually been erased from the historical annals of the Wailers, despite the critical role she played in shaping the remarkable sound of the group and her contribution to the ensemble attracting national attention.
“Omg FB family, just watching this video of the only living member of the original Wailers which comprised Bob, Peter, Bunny, Junior Braithwaite and herself Beverly Kelso. It brings tears to my eyes,” Forbes stated.
“I remember when one of the male in the group (Bunny Wailer) said on a popular TV show that he was the only living member of the group, when Beverly Kelso was still alive. She said she was so hurt when she saw and heard what was said then. Now she’s hurting more and feel and said that she has been totally forgotten,” he added.
Continued Forbes: “She was part of the foundation and creation of the Wailers back in 1962/63, sang on some of the great hits like the first hit ‘Simmer Down’, ‘Lonesome Feeling’, ‘Hurts To Be Alone’, ‘I Don’t Need Your Love’, ‘Straight & Narrow Way’ and ‘How Many Times’ are some of the songs she sang on back then.”
According to Forbes, he intends to co-opt Kelso as part of his Reggae My Life Is book tour, “to bring back some of those great historic moments which she played great roles in”, among them “the creation and evolution in the journey of the most popular group of entertainers”.
Over the years, many Reggae pundits have expressed unease about Kelso being forgotten despite her integral part in the formation of the Wailers, which Forbes describes as greatest entertainment group to come out of Jamaica, the most recent being Big Stone.
“Without her voice on Simmer Down, it would not have been an overnight hit. Without her voice on Lonesome Feeling, it would never be a sensation that it has become. Without her voice, That it Hurts to be Alone, would not, because her voice is special,” Big Stone had said during the ceremony for Kelso.
Kelso’s musical journey began back in 1963 at age 14 when her mother gave permission for her to be a part of the Wailers after Bob heard her igniting a concert with her vocals. Overtime, she sang on more than 12 Wailers songs, among them It Hurts To Be Alone and Lonesome Feeling.
She left the group in 1965, and later migrated to the United States in 1979, where she has lived ever since. Today, Kelso remains the sole surviving founding member of the original Wailers ensemble following the passing of Bunny Wailer in March 2021.
In June 2022, she was presented with a United States Congressional Proclamation from Congresswoman Yvette D. Clarke of the Ninth Congressional District in New York.
In March 2014, The Gleaner newspaper published an article titled Beverley Kelso gives The Wailers a sound, which noted that “one of the most commonly accepted inaccuracies in popular music is that there is one surviving Wailer, but that is not entirely true”.
“The surviving Wailer often referred to is Neville O’Riley Livingstone, better known as Bunny Wailer, but Beverley Kelso, a foundation and cornerstone member, is very much alive and well, living in Brooklyn, New York,” the article had noted.
According to The Gleaner records, Kelso was born in Kingston in April 1948 and attended Miss Nembhard Prep and the Denham Town Primary School in West Kingston.
The article also noted that besides Kelso being in Jamaica in July 2012 to receive an award for her services to music, at the big Kingsley Goodison-conceived ‘Tributes to The Greats 15 Awards Show and Dance’ at Curphy place, outside of that, “much has been made of her role in helping to lay the foundation on which the would-be internationally famous Bob Marley and The Wailers was built. Yet, she was most crucial, in more ways than one, to the development of the group”.
It said that Kelso, who was the lone female, the confidante of the group and second youngest of the original Wailers, was a key sound on the iconic Simmer Down, “which became a massive No.1 hit in Jamaica in early 1964, riding the top of the charts for several weeks”.
“It was Kelso’s high-pitched background vocals that provided the perfect balance to the group’s sound. It was so critical, that when she left the group, it became a strenuous and bewildering task to find a suitable replacement that would maintain the original Wailers sound,” the article noted.
“Kelso’s shrill intonations can easily be detected on the recordings Simmer Down and Lonesome Feeling. The latter, in particular, did much to revolutionise the Wailers’ sound with a pumping organ riff by the Vikings Band,” The Gleaner noted of Kelso who also said back then that she had recorded 25 songs with the group before making her exit in late 1965 with one titled Let The Lord Be Seen In You,” The Gleaner noted, adding that “the group desperately tried to hold on to her, going as far as dedicating a song to her, titled Donna”.
The article also said that when Bob Marley was getting married to Rita Anderson on February 10, 1966, “Kelso was the only group member who had knowledge of it”.
“It can be said that, in a sense, Kelso unwittingly started the Marley empire,” the publication noted.