King Stitt, a pioneer in rap reggae, died Tuesday in his Caribbean homeland of Jamaica. He was 72.
Stitt died at his home in the capital of Kingston after a long fight with prostate cancer and diabetes, said Jamaican musicologist Bunny Goodison, who was a close friend to the performer for more than 50 years. Stitt had recently been discharged from a public hospital.
The entertainer known offstage as Winston Sparks started his musical career in the late 1950s on Kingston’s circuit of sound systems, a sort of portable disco.
Stitt is credited as one of the earliest performers of “toasting,” a vibrant form of Jamaican deejaying that directly inspired hip-hop music.
Born on September 17, 1940, King Stitt was given the nickname ‘Stitt’ as a boy and used it as his moniker. During the 1960s, he was dubbed ‘King of the Deejays’ the ‘King’ was added. King Stitt took advantage of his facial malformation (born with disfigured facial features and also missing numerous teeth) and called himself The Ugly One, in reference to the Sergio Leone western movie The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.
Influenced by Count Machuki, the original Jamaican deejay, King Stitt began deejaying on Sir Coxson’s Downbeat Sound System in the late 1950s.
He is best known for songs like “Paradise Plum” and “Fire Corner.” He was a close collaborator of the late music producer Clement “Sir Coxsone” Dodd, who ran the celebrated Studio One and guided Stitt’s career for years.
“Without being disrespectful, Stitt made a mark vocally and visually. Because of his image everyone knew him,” Goodison said Tuesday.
Big Youth, a veteran Jamaican deejay whose real name is Manley Augustus Buchanan, said he vividly recalled his times as a boy watching Stitt’s unique performances in the 1960s.
“He was the first king. Stitt really did a lot for the music, always had a nice vibe,” Big Youth said.
Stitt is survived by his only child, Beverley Spark. (AP)