Media Watch: Musical Youth on TV One’s ‘Unsung’

Words by Jesse Serwer

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Most everyone knows Musical Youth‘s “Pass the Dutchie” (even Homer Simpson’s referenced it) but few have any idea what happened to the British-Jamaican kid group after their 1982 smash—or are aware that they were not just a pop novelty act but actual musical talents who played all of their own instruments and wrote some of their own material. Last night, cable network TV One featured the fivesome on its documentary series Unsung, and the story depicted was far from uplifting. Their career was over almost as quickly as it began and with little compensation for their success (“Pass the Dutchie” reached No. 1 in the U.K. and other countries, and was the first song by a Black act to appear in regular rotation in MTV, just beating out “Billie Jean”) reaching their pockets, several members resorted to petty crime and drug abuse. Bassist Patrick Waite died from a heart attack in 1994 while awaiting a court appearance on drug charges; drummer Junior Waite, his brother, is permanently consigned to mental institutions.

Unsung did a great job with this story. Not only did the producers score some really illuminating behind-the-scenes footage and a gang of colorful photos (including one of the group with Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney, and another with Michael Manley) from the group’s heyday, but they also managed to track down guitarist and littlest member Kelvin Grant (he’s the high-pitched one singing on “Pass the Dutchie”), who’s lived a life off the grid for years and manages to come across seriously unhinged in what is apparently his first interview in decades. I’ve said it before (in fact, I wrote a whole story in the Washington Post about it) but Unsung is one of cable TV’s best kept secrets, a Behind the Music for artists you don’t know anything about instead of ones you already know more than you want to know about.

The episode, which will re-run at various times later this week, can be streamed at TV One’s website until Oct. 11. Or, better yet, just watch it right here: