IT was while on a painting job that the melody of Cherry Oh Baby popped into Eric Donaldson's consciousness. One of reggae's most enduring songs, the seven-time winner of the Jamaica Festival Song Competition names it as his all-time favourite.
“This song is in a class by itself. The first thing it have rhythm like no other song... it was a new song. It was catchy and the lyrics was just right. It [the song] jus' fall in love with the people and the people dem fall in love wid the song,” Donaldson, 74, told the Jamaica Observer.
Cherry Oh Baby was named winner of the Jamaica Festival Song Competition in 1971. This year marks its 50th anniversary, a milestone not lost on the singer.
“The idea for the song jus' hit mi in a couple of minutes. I was doing some painting, 'cause I used to do some painting and interior decoration. I jus' a paint, paint, and all type ah thing ah go through you mind because mi still have di music thing inna mi head. All of a sudden, jus' like a likkle melody jus' hit mi and mi jus' try fi remember what mi hear. The melody come first to me, then I write the words,” he said.
“ Cherry Oh Baby is an international song. It never had anything to do with festival, but it's a happy song and a loving song and a beat that couldn't be denied. It's my favourite in many ways – 'monetary-wise' it gave me di most money. I have other songs that people rate as anthem but ah Cherry Oh Baby mi a go wid,” he continued.
The song has indeed found favour internationally. It has been covered by The Rolling Stones (on their 1976 album, Black and Blue) and UB40 (on their 1983 album, Labour of Love). Cherry Oh Baby's rhythm remains extremely popular as more than 30 cover versions have been recorded, including an update by Donaldson.
He said it was initially penned as Oh My Loving Baby before reworked to Cherry Oh Baby.
“So me guh back go rearrange it and call a name... The name was intrinsic; it came from inside. I wasn't really thinking about 'cherry' that bear on tree or anybody in particular,” he said.
Born in Kent Village near Bog Walk, St Catherine, Donaldson's other winners in the Jamaica Festival Song Competition are: Sweet Jamaica (1977); Land of My Birth (1978); Proud To Be Jamaican (1984); Big It Up (1993); Join de Line (1995); and; Peace and Love (1997).
Land of My Birth is often touted as Jamaica's unofficial anthem, but for Donaldson, “ Cherry Oh Baby can't dead. Every generation come get a piece of it.”
Last year, Donaldson was bestowed an Order of Distinction (OD) in the rank of officer for his outstanding service to the Jamaican music industry.
The presentation also involved pre-taped interviews in which the finalists shared why they decided to enter the 55th staging of the competition. For show band Fab 5, it was all about providing a song that can make everybody move, “from the child to the grandma,” while I-Octane, who declared that he was happy to be “one of the 12,” sounded like a musical disciple. Although most of them didn’t say it out loud, it became obvious that they are all in the contest to win, and the viewers seemed to agree that 2021 will be a tight decision year. “Mi seh, the talent tun up inna festival dis year,” one viewer commented on YouTube.
In an era where social-media popularity counts for something, some contestants seemed able to marshal their online troops better than others. Over on the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission (JCDC) YouTube pages, it was obvious from before the advertised 8:30 p.m. start that Team DB and Team Candy were out in full force. Comments included: “DB for the win.” “Make sure to vote for DB.” “Candy fi mi chocolate.” “Looks like Candy is up next. Come through, mi winner!!” “I can’t wait till I hear Candy. Her song sounds good. Fab 5 have a good song too. The competition is tight this year.”
However, there was also much love for Father Reece, the many-time contestant who had served time in prison for murder. “Father Reece wears many hats ... singer, motivational speaker, guidance counsellor, farmer. He did not let his past limit his ability. Bloom where you are planted, sir!” a new fan stated.
Pessoa was branded “hot like a lava” and “the next Eric Donaldson”, and, after many compliments directed at Althea Hewitt’s magnificent voice, they also praised her regal appearance. “Althea Hewitt came out dressed like a whole queen!”
At the end of the over two-hour long showcase, which was hosted by comedian Christopher ‘Johnny’ Daley, some persons declared that they were getting ready to vote for multiple contestants, and there were questions about voting from overseas.
In a release, Minister of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport, Olivia Grange stated: “Voting lines will open immediately after the performance show, so we want the public to take their support to the next level by calling and texting to vote for their favourite finalist ahead of the competition’s grand final announcement show on July 22. If you’ve heard your winning Festival Song, a song that speaks to you, moves you and grooves you and makes you proud to be a Jamaican, then you need to vote to ensure that it remains in the running to become Jamaica’s next Festival Song.”