King Yellowman is a dance hall legend that overcame many personal obstacles and became an international star. His birth name is Winston Foster and he was born an albino, which is a genetic defect that causes an absence of pigment melanin from the eyes, skin and ears. He was abandoned by his parents at birth, when they threw him away in a garbage patch. Fortunately someone discovered him and His life was saved. He was sent to live in various orphanages; the first one was at Swift Purcell Boy’s home in St. Mary and later on to the Maxfield Children’s Home in Kingston. When he reached his teenage years he was sent to the Roman Catholic orphanage the Alpha Boys School also in Kingston.
Growing up as an albino in Jamaica wasn’t easy; in Jamaica being an albino is the object of social sigma. Because of it Yellowman was the object of scorn and abuse throughout his years growing up. He says that even today he is still scorned to a certain degree, but not to the extent that it was when he was growing up, in part because through his music and position in life he has earned a measure of respect.
While at the Alpha Boys school it was where his talents were discovered and developed through the school’s musical program. Sister Mary Ignatius Davis presided over the program. She worked at the Alpha Boys School for over 60 years; even though she was a Nun she had a love of secular music. She had a large record collection of blues, jazz, reggae and the popular sounds. She passed on her knowledge of music to her students and is credited with inspiring some of Jamaica’s greatest musicians to pursue professional careers. Some of her famous alumni are Cedric Brooks, Tommy McCook, Vin Gordon, Leroy Smart and Leroy “Horse mouth” Wallace. Sister Mary even had a sound system that played popular music. Yellowman and others horned in their talents toasting on the mic.
Despite Yellowman’s talents the scorning and bullying followed him on the sound systems. Early on during his career he experienced a lot of prejudice and nobody would pass the mic to him and give for a chance to say his lyrics. However, a legendary D.J “Eek A Mouse” who also happened to be a bad man from an area in Kingston called Jungle and General Stalky another Kingston bad man used to force the other D.J’s to give Yellowman his turn at the mic. But things such like putting a kerchief over the mic after he finished with it still often took place. It is one of the reasons up to the present day why Yellowman hardly does shows in Jamaica, in part because the other artists tell the promoters that they don’t want to work with him; or the promoters won’t book him for the sole reason that he is an albino.
Yellowman got on the sound system circuit (dance hall) after he won the Tastee talent show; and within months he became one of Jamaica’s top concert draws. He was then invited to join a sound system called Echo Mafia, later on he was a substitute D.J on Gemini Sound and then Black Scorpio. After a performance with Black Scorpio in St. Thomas; the owner of the Aces Sound asked him to be their resident D.J. From there he traveled throughout Jamaica performing with Aces.
After Yellowman started to record in the early 1980’s during that time there was a shift in reggae music and Dance Hall started to become popular in the Jamaican night clubs. He seized the transition and a string of hits came out of it.
Overall he was a prolific recorder and at one point he flooded the Jamaican musical market with over forty singles. Collaboration with ground breaking dance hall producer Henry “ Junjo “ Lewes took him to new heights. Recording albums that were internationally released establishing a fan base in England and the United States. This led to him becoming one of the first dance hall artists to be signed with a major main stream label CBS Records.
His single Zungguzngguguzunggueng is one of the most heavily sampled songs in the music industry. Having been sampled by big name popular artists such as Notorious B.I.G, Easy E, Black Star, 2-Pac and others. True_George wonders if he ever sued and got compensated.
While at the height of his career Yellowman was diagnosed with skin cancer and was told that he had only three years to live. The prognosis proved to be incorrect and after a couple of surgeries his cancer went into remission. A few years later he had a bout with throat cancer and it was discovered that the cancer spread to his jaw. To get the tumor out, a large portion of his lower jawbone had to be removed which made him become permanently disfigured.
Yellowman is the people’s King of Dancehall, he was nominated for a Grammy award a few times. Today even though the quality of his voice isn’t the same as it was, he still performs often with his Daughter Kareem even having a hectic touring scheduled.
Book by True_George
Yellowman’s success in the early 1980s did spawn other albino youths (e.g. Busta) to perform at dance hall gigs across Jamaica.