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Roy Shirley

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Roy Shirley also known as King Roy Shirley and The High Priest (born Ainsworth Roy Rushton Shirley, July 18, 1944, Kingston, Jamaica, died July 2008) was a Jamaican singer whose career spanned the ska, rocksteady and reggae eras, and whose “Hold Them” is regarded by some as the first ever rocksteady song. He was also one of the original members of The Uniques.

Shirley was born on July 18, 1944, and grew up in Trench Town, and began his career performing in talent contests. After early recordings for producer Simeon L. Smith went unreleased, he moved on to work with Leslie Kong, who released his debut single “Oh Shirley”, co-arranged with his friend Jimmy Cliff, giving him a hit in 1965. Shirley then formed The Leaders along with Ken Boothe, Joe White, and Chuck Josephs. This group was unsuccessful, but Shirley went on to join Slim Smith and Franklyn White in the original line-up of The Uniques. When this line-up folded, Shirley recorded “Hold Them” in 1966, credited as one of the first rocksteady songs, and inspired by the beat from a Salvation Army band. Shirley attempted to perform “Hold Them” to a ska beat, but unable to make it work, slowed down the rhythm. He initially attempted to record the song with Slim Smith and Ken Boothe for producer Joe Gibbs, but it didn’t work out, with the other singers struggling to break away from the ska style, and Gladstone Anderson suggested to Gibbs that Shirley perform the song solo.

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