Bob Andy: Singer-songwriter who ranked among the Caribbean’s greats

He had early success as half of Bob & Marcia with Nina Simone’s ‘Young, Gifted and Black’ before embarking on a solo career

Garth Cartwright
Friday 17 April 2020 14:13
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Andy’s solo career epitomised a shift in reggae towards greater social consciousness
Andy’s solo career epitomised a shift in reggae towards greater social consciousness

Bob Andy was a Jamaican reggae singer best known in the UK for singing (with Marcia Griffiths) “Young, Gifted & Black” (No 5, March 1970). Bob & Marcia (as the duo were known) had only one more UK hit – “Pied Piper” (No 11, June 1971) – but across his lengthy solo career Andy, who has died of cancer aged 75, proved himself among the Caribbean’s finest singers and most gifted songwriters.

Bob Andy was the stage name of Keith Anderson who was born in Kingston, Jamaica, and endured a childhood of extreme deprivation. Anderson’s mother had little interest in her son and she left him with her mother. When Anderson’s grandmother died he was given to adoptive parents who treated him brutally.

Eventually fleeing to his mother he found things no better, so, aged 13, presented himself at Maxfield Park children’s home claiming to be an orphan. When the authorities found out that Anderson’s mother was alive and well and living in Kingston, they attempted to reunite the youth but he begged them not to.

After going to court he was made a ward of the state and at Maxfield Park Anderson taught himself to play the home’s piano, sang in Kingston Parish Church choir and began writing his first songs.

Having befriended Tyrone Evans in the local scout troop, the two youngsters formed The Paragons, a vocal quartet of the kind then dominating Jamaican music. Andy soon fell out with John Holt, The Paragons’ lead vocalist, so left to work for Clement “Coxsone” Dodd’s Studio One label.

Dodd decided that Bob Andy was a more suitable name for a recording artist while putting the youngster’s songwriting skills to work writing for the label’s singers. One of these was the teenage Marcia Griffiths, with whom he soon entered into a relationship. Dodd, aware of the popularity of male-female singing duos, got the couple recording as Bob & Marcia in 1968.

Producer Harry “Harry J” Johnson began working with the couple in 1970, requesting that they record a reggae version of Nina Simone’s “Young, Gifted and Black”, then leasing it to Trojan Records in the UK.

Trojan sweetened the recording with strings but no one predicted its huge success. The duo toured the UK and Europe to much acclaim but, according to Andy, were never fairly compensated. “When we left Jamaica, Harry J did not have a studio. When we came back, he had a studio and a brand new Benz,” he told Jamaica’s Gleaner newspaper in 2016.

Andy enjoyed early success alongside Griffiths in Bob & Marcia

Andy’s solo recording career began in 1966 and throughout he epitomised the shift in reggae towards greater social/spiritual consciousness that would eventually be tagged cultural or roots music. He wrote incisive lyrics and memorable melodies, working initially with the keyboardist Jackie Mittoo to create a series of Studio One 45s that have long been considered as amongst the best Jamaican music of that era.

In 1970 his debut solo album Bob Andy’s Song Book was released to much praise. In 1974 Griffiths joined Bob Marley’s band as one of the I Threes backing vocalists, bringing to an end her and Andy’s musical partnership, though they would occasionally reunite to record and perform together.

Andy’s next album Lots of Love and I (1977) is also considered a classic, but the cutthroat nature of the music industry dismayed him, and he attempted to establish a Caribbean copyright association to protect artists’ works. In 1978 he began a five-year break from the music industry, working during that time in dance and as a film and stage actor. In 1983 he returned with the Friends album and a single “Honey”, both of which reached No 1 in the UK reggae charts.

Andy’s 1966 debut single “I’ve Got to Go Back Home” was a call for repatriation to Ethiopia that perhaps echoed the feelings of many a homesick Jamaican in the UK and, in 2005, Andy got to perform in Africa. A Rastafarian, his concerts in Ethiopia were a celebration of his faith.

The Jamaican government conferred the Order of Distinction on Keith “Bob Andy” Anderson in October 2006. A brutal mugging in 2015 left Andy seriously injured. He recovered and continued to perform – his headlining set at the 2016 London Ska Festival is spoken of with reverence.

British reggae historian Noel Hawks notes: “Bob was not only one of Jamaica’s finest singers and songwriters but also one of nature’s gentlemen.”

He is survived by two children from two different relationships.

Keith Anderson (Bob Andy), singer and songwriter, born 28 October 1944, died 27 March 2020

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