Winston Rodney was born 01 Mach, 1945 in Saint Ann’s Bay, Saint Ann, Jamaica, the same region where Bob Marley and Jamaican political hero Marcus Garvey grew up. Both men had a profound impact on Winston’s life and work, especially with regard to the exploration of the themes of Pan-Africanism and self-determination. He took his artist name “Burning Spear” after a military award given by Kenya’s first President Jomo Kenyatta.
As a young man he listened to the R&B, soul and jazz music transmitted by the US radio stations whose broadcasts reached Jamaica. Curtis Mayfield is cited by Rodney as a major US musical influence along with James Brown. He launched his career in 1969 with the help of Bob Marley. They met a few years prior at Marley’s farm, where Spear was working and the two began to conversing about music. Marley advised Rodney to approach Coxsone Dodd’s “Studio One” label.
At this time Burning Spear consisted of Winston Rodney and bass singer Rupert Willington. After recording “Door Peep” for Dodd, they were joined by tenor Delroy Hinds. The trio recorded several singles and two albums for Dodd before moving on to work with Jack Ruby in 1975. Their first recording with Ruby, “Marcus Garvey”, was an immediate hit, and was followed by “Slavery Days”.
Other songs followed, with material being written and performed primarily by Burning Spear. At the core of his song writing was the everyday tribulations of his fellow Jamaicans. Channeling this new genre of reggae, known as Roots-Reggae, Burning Spear wrote about the hardships and dreams of Jamaica and its people.
In 1976, Rodney embarked on a solo career and Started using the name Burning Spear for himself alone. His popularity soared with U.K. audiences. Unfortunately, as he grew in fame he was plagued with business management issues as well as struggles with record label executives. This galvanized him to start his self-titled label in the early 1980’s.
He has won two Grammy awards for Best Reggae Album. In 1999 with Calling Rastafari and ten years later in 2009 with Jah Is Real.
He said in a 2009 interview:
“I’m getting deeper and deeper, saying what I have to say through the music. I come to the realization about all the good things with music I’ve done for so many different people all over the world. They feel it, they embrace it, they love it, and they live with it for so many years and still expect me to always present to them that quality and that kind of music, so it’s working.”