Denroy Morgan was 19-years-old in 1966 when he and a few friends in Spanish Town, Jamaica decided to join a crowd of people waiting to see H.I.M Emperor Haile Selassie. Raised in the Church of God Adventist, the teenager waited for the arrival of the Ethiopian monarch he had heard was someone of influence and royal heritage.
When the visitor walked down the steps of a diesel, Morgan recalled “he was a little man, I didn’t expect that.” How this “little man” impacted his life is now history. According to Morgan, the miracle did not happen overnight. However in 1975, Morgan made a transformation, deciding to take control of his lifestyle by adopting principles that the Rastafarian community hold as righteous.
One of his principal goals was to be a messenger of his beliefs. Therefore it came as no surprise when he embarked on a singing career and successfully broke down barriers in the music industry to get radio airplay on pop, urban contemporary, college and reggae radio stations with a simple confession titled “I’ll Do Anything For You.” What he did for the genre less than a decade later, is now history. Disco fans as well as pop music lovers attest to the reaction in clubs every time a deejay plays the disc. Signed to a major record label, Morgan quickly learned the ins and outs of the business. He decided he would raise a generation that would reflect a positive image. Eventually Morgan realized, as an immigrant to the United States, his task was to continue the heritage he recognized as a teenager living in Jamaica.
And so it continued…
It was 1992 when the world first heard about off-spring, ready to take up the mantle their father wore as music-maker, songwriter and Rastafarian. That they would be called Morgan Heritage, sing reggae music and play instruments, signaled a new dawn for the genre. At the time, the children were taking on the great stages of Jamaica. The biggest concert of the time, Reggae Sunsplash, would prove to be the launch-pad for the band’s relationship with the hottest record label of the time, MCA Records.
The label took notice of the newest, emerging icons of the music industry. The siblings were just completing high school. Gramps was offered a scholarship to play football for the Miami Hurricanes. Una contemplated a career in law. But with the offer of a record deal at a major label, she decided to join her brothers Peter, Mr. Mojo, Lukes and Gramps for a consensus to sign. The label added Morgan Heritage to it’s roster which included New Edition, Guy, The Jets, and chart-toppers such as Patti LaBelle, Gladys Knight, and Jody Watley. But this was a Heritage with a purpose. This Heritage had a mission. And as impressive as the acclaimed label was, there was no compatibility with the family, reggae music or Morgan Heritage. After the release of the album “Miracles,” Morgan Heritage parted company with the MCA, but the message was already spreading. The reggae community had unanimously dubbed the group “the royal family of reggae.”
Reggae Bring Back Love…
Mr. Mojo, Gramps, Lukes, Peter and Una had been splitting their time commuting between family homes in Springfield, Massachusetts and Brooklyn, New York. Deciding to focus squarely on their mission, the family relocated to Morant Bay, Jamaica. “It was very easy for us to adjust to Jamaica because the way we were raised was as if we were always living in Jamaica,” Una explained. “In Springfield, we had chickens running around in the yard,” Peter said. “It was like living in Clarendon or Spanish Town.” On arrival, Morgan Heritage was embraced by the fraternity of reggae recorders and promoters who invited them to perform at every major concert. Jamaica confirmed the significance of the group after a stunning performance at the finale of the week-long Reggae Sumfest. It was at this point that VP Records committed to provide support. Birthday celebrations were frequent. With 27 siblings to share a special day, the family launched an annual end-of-year concert to celebrate all the birthdays. They named it East Fest. Inviting dancehall and traditional roots artists as performers, the family party attracted thousands. Some of the most respected names in the genre joined the bill. Bounty Killer, The Marley brothers, Luciano, Beenie Man, Buju Banton, Beres Hammond, Marcia Griffiths, Capleton, Toots Hibbert, Edi Fitzroy and others are frequent performers on the annual concert stage. As the years went on, the group busied themselves by recording two albums. By 1997 “Protect Us Jah” and “One Calling” were considered reggae favorites. One of the gems that those projects yielded was the signature, “Reggae Bring Back Love.” Undeniably, two more tracks to consistently blaze requests from audiences include “Down By The River” (from the seminal “More Teachings” album) and “Don’t Haffi Dread.”
From Dominica to South Africa, Australia to New Caledonia, France, and Denmark as well as every major city in the United States, Morgan Heritage has come full circle to fulfill the legacy that Denroy envisioned when he grouped five of his children. “We are just vessels,” Una confessed. Of their international exposure: “Every place stands out for us,” Lukes admitted. “New Caledonia was special because out of a population of 200,000, 40,000 people showed up to see us.” “In South Africa, we spent three hours at Winnie Mandela’s house,” Una said. “Winnie gave us a history lesson on South Africa and also explained the devastation of AIDS across the entire continent. She told us that it was reggae that kept her going through the hard times.” “Europe has been most consistent in embracing us,” Gramps added. ”More than 50,000 people showed up to our performance in Denmark,” Una said. “But then there were about 85,000 in Belgium” “Then there was Burkino Faso, and the Ivory Coast where the people showed us a lot of love,” Mr. Mojo interjected. Morgan Heritage toured on the Warped Tour, playing to rock audiences, who are sure to seek out “Full Circle,” their new 18-track compilation. “Full Circle” compiles a potpourri of songs to suit every music connoisseur. Dancehall fans will relish “Girls Round The World,” a track which features Damian “Jr. Gong” Marley on a hip-hop, flavorful, mix. Grammy-winning Shaggy collaborates on “Keep On Jammin’,” to reprise a Marvin Gaye classic. There is also a Latin-tinged hybrid titled “U’ve Got Me,” that is sure to please every ear, north and south of the border.
On “Full Circle,” Morgan Heritage continues a journey started by their father. Together, Morgan Heritage has come “Full Circle.” Check it!