A Medal for Melchizedek: Jamaica Honors Earl “Chinna” Smith

By Kieran K. Meadows, Photo by Michael Weintrob—

earl-chinna-smith

Legendary Jamaican guitarist Earl “Chinna” Smith is set to receive a long overdue order of distinction from his home country.

After nearly a half-century of being musically active, Smith — who was No. 2 on our countdown of greatest reggae guitarists — will be honored next week with a Silver Musgrave Medal at the Institute of Jamaica.

“It’s really good vibes… I really appreciate it and honor the fact that the effort has been made to pay attention to the music and identify my work at a time when our work is often overlooked,” Smith told the Jamaica Observer.

Smith, sometimes referred to as “Melchizedek, the High Priest of the Reggae Guitar,” has been at the forefront of Jamaican music from the late 1960s ska era through reggae to the present, as an in-demand session player. He began by playing with the Soul Syndicate band and soon after played for producer Bunny Lee’s house band, The Aggrovators. He also frequently worked with producer Lee “Scratch” Perry’s band The Upsetters. (Scratch, too, is set to receive a Gold Musgrave Medal at the same ceremony next week.)

Smith recorded with Bob Marley and The Wailers, first in 1976 on the album Rastaman Vibration. In the 80s, he started his own High Times record label and worked frequently with The Riddim Twins, Sly & Robbie. More recently he played on Amy Winehouse’s first album, Frank. Of course, whatever we list here is just the tip of the iceberg, as Smith’s six-string prowess can be heard on countless albums and 45s. A strong proponent of unity among artists, Smith has continued to push the music and importance of creativity, teaching the younger generation of musicians along the way. In fact, Gyptian credits Smith the one who introduced him to music and gave him his start.

The Musgrave Awards ceremony takes place on October 16.

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