Best Of '99: Lovers-Rock Pioneer Dennis Brown Dies

He was known for a breezy style over three decades of recording.

[Editor's note: Over the holiday season, SonicNet is looking back at 1999's top stories, chosen by our editors and writers. This story originally ran on Thursday, July 1.]

Jamaican reggae singer Dennis Brown, best known for pioneering the strand of music

known as lovers rock, died Thursday (July 1) in a Kingston, Jamaica, hospital. He was

42.

Brown, whose hits included 1972's "Money in My Pocket"

(RealAudio excerpt),

was admitted to the hospital at 10:30 p.m. local time Wednesday and died eight hours

later, according to Carl Davis, director of University Hospital of the West Indies.

Though Reuters news service reported that Brown died of upper respiratory

failure, Davis said an official cause of death could not be determined until an autopsy is

performed Friday.

Josh Blood, a spokesperson at the Cambridge, Mass., roots-reggae label Heartbeat

Records, recalled hearing from a number of sources that Brown had been in poor health

for the past year. Heartbeat released five Brown albums in the U.S., and Blood

remembered Brown as a passionate singer and performer who never strayed from the

traditional rhythms and cadences of reggae over three decades.

"He has been amazingly consistent from age 13 ... and I would put him in the top three

reggae performers of all time [with Bob Marley and Peter Tosh]," Blood said.

Blood said that unlike Marley, a major star in Jamaica in the 1960s whose local

popularity waned over the next decade as he became revered in the rest of the world,

Brown maintained his fanbase on the island and was still one of its most highly regarded

singers.

Brown began recording at the famed Studio One recording facility in Jamaica in 1968,

producing such sweet love songs as "No Man Is an Island" and "Silhouettes." He went

on to develop the genre known as lovers rock, a light, breezy style largely devoid of the

political vitriol that often defined Marley's output.

By the end of his career, Brown was popular enough to bill himself as the "Crown Prince

of Reggae." His first album for Heartbeat was Some Like It Hot (1992), a

compilation of such mid-1970s material as "Westbound Train"

(RealAudio excerpt). His final album,

Bless Me Jah, was released on R.A.S. in May.