Born Desmond Dacres in Kingston 1941, he spent the early part of his orphaned childhood near Seaforth, St. Thomas before returning to Kingston where he worked as a welder. Usually singing on the job, his workmates encouraged him to seek an audition. Receiving rejections from Coxsone Dodd and Duke Reid, he found a mentor in Leslie Kong of Beverley’s Records.
In 1963, the newly renamed Desmond Dekker teamed up with backing group, the Aces (James Wilson and East Barrington Howard) together they enjoyed a great deal of success during the mid-’60s with songs like “King of Ska”, “That Woman”, and “Mount Zion”.
The emergence of rocksteady in the latter half of 1966 propelled Dekker’s James Bond–inspired “007 (Shanty Town)” into the UK charts the following year. A catchy, rhythmically infectious articulation of the Rude Boy street gang exploits, the single presaged Dekker’s emergence as an international artiste.
In 1967, Dekker and the Aces placed second in the Jamaica Festival Song Contest with “Unity”, and continued their chart topping run in their home country with songs such as “Music Like Dirt”, “Rudie Got Soul”, “Rude Boy Train”, and “Sabotage”.
In 1969 Dekker, achieved his greatest international success with the seminal “Israelites”, which became the first reggae tune to top the UK pop charts. Even more astonishing, was the fact that it broke into the Top Ten of the US charts which had been previously been out of bounds to Jamaican vocalists.
Dekker took up residence in the UK in 1996, and became a regular club performer. He continued voicing tracks over rhythms laid down in Jamaica. Another minor hit was realized with “Pickney Gal”, which was followed by a massive hit version of Jimmy Cliff’s “You Can Get It if You Really Want” taken from the film The Harder They Come.
When longtime manager and producer, Leslie Kong, died in 1971, he joined the Cactus label and had minor success with a reissue of “Israelites”, but the experiment was not commercially successful. Dekker declared bankruptcy, ending a chapter in the career of one of reggae’s best known personalities. He continued touring regularly before he died of a heart attack in 2006.
Dekker’s unmistakable falsetto remains one of Jamaica’s most memorable while his importance as the first major reggae artiste to achieve international success deserves wider acknowledgment.