top of page
  • Writer's pictureFabrizio Laganà

Leslie Kong Music legend

December 20, is the birthday in the heaven of a great Chinese-Jamaican legend like the producer Leslie Kong and his historic label Beverley's.

Leslie and her two older brothers Cecil and Lloyd ran a restaurant, ice cream shop and record shop called Beverley's in Orange Street, Kingston. In 1961, he met a young Jimmy Cliff outside his shop singing a song he had written called 'Dearest Beverley', in hopes that the mention of the establishment would persuade Kong to record him. This meeting led Kong to launch his own record label, Beverley's, and to record Cliff's song, launching Cliff's career in the process.

Cliff took on an A&R role for the label and brought Bob Marley to Kong's attention. In 1962, Kong recorded Marley's first single 'A Cup of Coffee' and 'Judge Not', and Jimmy Cliff's first hit, 'Miss Jamaica'. Kong, known in Jamaican music circles as 'the Chinese', has quickly established itself as the leading island producer of local folk music.

Throughout the 1960s Kong continued to record many prominent Jamaican artists from ska to reggae through rocksteady including Joe Higgs, Desmond Dekker, Toots & the Maytals, Derrick Morgan, John Holt and Stranger Cole. A wise businessman, Kong was one of the original shareholders in Island Records along with Chris Blackwell and Australian engineer Graeme Goodall.

Beginning in 1963 Kong began licensing ska recordings at Blackwell for UK release on the Island's Black Swan imprint. After Blackwell bought Kong and Goodall of share Island, in 1967 Kong formed a second collaboration with Graeme Goodall, who created the pyramid label in the UK for the successful release of rocksteady reggae productions and the beginning of Kong. When pyramid folded in 1969, the licensing successes continued with Trojan Records.

Kong is known for being the first Jamaican producer to achieve international success with longtime collaborator Desmond Dekker, in 1967 with '007 (Shanty Town)' and, most importantly, in 1969 with 'Israelite', which topped the UK Singles Chart in April 1969 and went to number nine on the American charts in July 1969, selling over two million copies. During the early reggae period, he worked with Bob Marley and The Wailers (the best of the Wailers) and enjoyed several successful hits with pioneers 'Long Shot kicking the Bucket', and The Melodians' 'Rivers of Babylon' and 'Sweet Feeling'.

His work with The Maytals also led to numerous hits including '54-46 This Is My Number'and the UK charting single 'Monkey Man'.

Matthew Sherman explains the relationship between the Maytals and Leslie Kong: 'From '69 to '71, Toots Hibbert couldn't do a wrong recording for Leslie Kong. With the sizeable core of musicians, the Beverley All-Stars (Jackie Jackson, Winston Wright, Hux Brown, Rad Bryan, Paul Douglas and Winston Grennan) and the Maytals' brilliant harmonization, Toots wrote and sang his unmistakable voice on every subject imaginable'.

Other singers who have recorded for him and the Beverley label include Ken Boothe, Bruce Ruffin, The Gaylads and Delroy Wilson. Ex-Skatalites saxophonist Roland Alphonso cut numerous instrumentals for Kong during the rocksteady period. When reggae arrived in late 1968, lead instrumental functions were handled by organists Ansell Collins and Winston Wright.

Kong's plans to release a compilation of songs from the singles he produced by the Wailers led to Bunny Wailer allegedly threatening Kong with a curse, telling him that if he issued the record, he would die. Kong went on with the release in 1970.

Kong died of a heart attack, aged 38, in August 1971.

December 20 1933 - August 9 1971

bottom of page