Gil Bailey: Godfather of Reggae Passes

Gil Bailey: Godfather of Reggae Passes

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On a day when Caribbean diasporans reflect the nostalgia of growing up on sunny islands and
the tradition of celebrating Easter Monday, the passing of Gil Bailey, Jamaica’s revered
‘Godfather of Reggae” shattered the silence of another day of quarantine from the COVID19
afflictions in New York.

Resonating with sadness and grief that only a few will be able to attend his funeral due to the
national state of emergency, his fans lamented the fact he will be denied the sendoff he deserved
as a beloved radio veteran.

Going forward, the Jamaican tradition of merriment with beach parties, picnics and excursions
previously marked on Easter Monday will be recalled with the tragic loss of the relatable

Early in the day social media alerts, phone calls and radio station messages announced the sad
news that the pioneering radio personality succumbed from the coronavirus. Reports are that he
had been ailing and had been hospitalized with symptoms of kidney failure.

“Shortly after midnight, my mom lost her father. It hurts that she wasn’t able to be by his side
while he passed away due to he contracted COVID 19 and had been isolated,” his granddaughter
posted on social media.

“My grandfather had a successful life and career…I’m Proud.”
Speaking on her mother’s behalf she said: I’m sorry I couldn’t say goodbye.”
Throughout the decades — allegedly five — Bailey consistently reminded his listeners of the
cultural tradition of partying after the solemnity of Lent and the hopeful day of Resurrection
which is followed by revelry. But this Easter Monday, Bailey departed after waging a fierce struggle to survive symptoms of kidney failure.

Those familiar with his journey from Jamaica to London, England and his trailblazing radio
shows on WHBI-FM will lament his distinct delivery and grounded speech pattern that
distinguished him from other radio personalities.
“He spoke Jamaican patois – raw chaw and real,” Habte Selassie said. “I used to listen to the Earl
Chin show then and Gil would come on afterwards and it was like no other – straight from
Yard,” the host of WBAI-FM’s Labbrish explained.

“Gil would talk about getting the bun and cheese, the fry fish, the bammy and today would be
talking about Gunboat Beach and Bournemouth where stout and rum used to flow.”
Immigrants from Jamaica related to the familiarity. Despite the fact many considered his delivery
to be unrefined, non-broadcast quality and appealing to a rural Jamaica demographic, Bailey
never abandoned his native tongue or compromised standards he thought might alienate the
audience he sought to reach.

Instead he persevered when the brokered FM ceased operating and transferred the Gil Bailey
Show to numerous dials spanning AM and FM.
At a juncture, his program expanded with daily airings and on a Saturday would dominate the
day with news features, comedy bits, news and music.
“He was truly the Godfather,” Yvonne Smith, a former listener said. “He gave information about
Jamaica that no other radio station provided.
His sponsors were the little restaurants, bakeries and patty shops and he could tell listeners where
to buy fried dumpling, mackerel and bananas, fried plantain, dasheen, cocoa bread, pig’s tail and

“Reggae was always on his playlist –from ska to rocksteady, lover’s rock, dancehall, dub and
plenty plenty Bob Marley,” Leroy Riley said.
In latter years he integrated Jamaican gospel introducing groups such as Grace Thrillers, Carlene
Davis and Chevelle Franklyn to the format.
“And he would also interview people like Butch Stewart (former chairman of Air Jamaica) and
some of the big-wig politicians from Jamaica.”
“Mr. Bailey was the best of the best, he beat all the competition that came after him and his boat
rides and banquets were boasy affairs where people dress up to show off.”
On Easter Monday, Olivia Grange, Jamaica’s Minister of Culture, Gender, Sports and Entertainment said:
“Gil Bailey was a personal friend and we worked together for several years to promote
Jamaica and our music in North America. Gil became known as the godfather of New
York Reggae radio, but when he just started out in the 1960s no one was playing
Jamaican music on radio in America. He came along and changed that by introducing
Reggae music to American radio audiences. His contribution to the popularity of
Reggae music in North America has been immense.
I am truly saddened by his passing and remain grateful for the role he played in the
development of Reggae Music.”

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