Ken Boothe was born on 22 March 1948 in Denham Town, Kingston and attended Denham Primary Elementary School where he developed an interest in music after receiving encouragement from his eldest sister, Hyacinth Clover, who was an established vocalist.
His first solo tracks were recorded in 1966 after Clement “Coxsone” Dodd had signed him to his Studio One Label. He had almost immediate success with songs including “The Train Is Coming” (on which he was backed by the Wailers), the first, ska version, of later reggae song You’re No Good with Soulettes (the group Bob Marley’s future wife Rita Anderson was in) the on B-side.
The following year, Boothe and Alton Ellis had a successful UK tour with the Studio One session group, the Soul Vendors. Boothe was promoted as “Mr. Rock Steady” by Dodd during this period. The rocksteady classic “Moving Away” was released in 1967 or 1968 on the Coxsone label. “Moving Away” is a song still popular today, and covered or sampled by many artists, among them Dennis Brown, Jackie Mittoo (“Macka Fat”), Jack Radics I-Roy, U-Roy among many others. Many of Boothe’s songs have been reused in one way or another. On the B-side of the single “Moving Away” was the instrumental “Streets Of Gold” by the Skatalites. Boothe continued to record for Dodd until 1970, when he switched to producer Leslie Kong’s Beverley’s Records and reggae, where his success continued with hits such as “Freedom Street” and “Why Baby Why”.
After Kong died, Boothe recorded for many of Jamaica’s top producers during the early 1970s. Under a new direction from record producer Lloyd Charmers, Boothe released “Everything I Own” on Trojan Records, which reached Number One in the UK Singles Chart in 1974. The song, written by David Gates, was given a sympathetic light reggae feel and it received airplay and an appreciative audience in the West Indies and was regularly played on the radio stations of the UK due to its “crossover” appeal.
In more recent times, Boothe has recorded for Bunny Lee, Phil Pratt, King Jammy, Pete Weston, Jack Ruby, Hugh “Red Man” James, Castro Brown and Tappa Zukie. In 1995 a version of “The Train Is Coming”, re-worked with Shaggy, was used in the soundtrack for the film Money Train. A two-disc set of Boothe’s recordings for Trojan, Crying Over You, was released in 2001.
Boothe was awarded the Order of Distinction for his contribution to Jamaican music by the Jamaican government in 2003.