WESTERLY — Glenroy Anthony "Ernie" Smith, the Jamaican guitarist legend who was born in Kingston, Jamaica in 1945 and who is celebrating half a century of music-making will join Westerly's Soulshot Saturday at the Knickerbocker Music Center, part of his 50th anniversary tour.

Soulshot, formed in 2003, has been the backing band for Ernie Smith on many occasions and has also backed Alton Ellis at the Rhode Island Reggae Festival. Featuring David “Daveydread” Turano on bass, Soulshot also includes David Prout, guitar; Rob Liguori, alto, tenor and flute; RJ Avalone on trumpet, Mark Berney on trumpet, Thom O’Brien rhythm guitar and vocals, Dion Knibb, vocals, Eric Williams,vocals,  Ken Stewart on keyboards, Krys Jackson on drums and Papa Zeke on percussion.

Soulshot has been playing clubs and festivals around New England/New York area since they first began and recently released their third album, "Soulshot and Friends."

Smith was 12 years old, his father, a guitar player, bought him his first guitar. It wasn't too long afterwards, that Smith earned the nickname Ernie, after the great Jamaican guitarist Ernie Ranglin. His professional musical career began in 1967, with his first recording, an original composition called "I Can't Take It," later recorded by Johnny Nash as "Tears On My Pillow." Hits followed in quick succession, including "Bend Down," "Ride On Sammy," "One Dream" and "Pitta Patta." 

Smith has written well over 200 songs, many of which have been recorded by other artists, including Rita Marley, Chakka Demus and Pliers, Twiggy, Ken Lazarus, John Jones, Eddie Lovette and Yellow Man Johnny Nash. He has played on many of the world's great stages including repeat performances at Madison Square Garden and has shared the stage with Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, Johnny Cash, The Police, Jimmy Cliff, John Holt, Ken Boothe, Gregory Isaacs, The Mighty Diamonds, Byron Lee and the Dragoneers, Toots and the Maytals, Freddy McGregor and Buju Banton.

In 1972, Smith became the first Jamaican musician to win an International award when he won the grand prize at the World Popular Song Festival of the Yamaha Foundation in Tokyo with his original composition of "Life is Just for Living." A feat in itself but also remarkable since he was competing against songwriters like Neil Sedaka, and Michael Legrand. The historic achievement drew the attention of his homeland and he became the first musician in the field of popular music to be honored by the Jamaican Government.

In 1976, Smith was forced into exile because of his controversial political commentary in the song, "The Power and the Glory." It was the first of three of the 13 years in exile from his homeland. But in Canada, where he relocated, he thrilled audiences and was a pioneer in bringing Reggae to the mainstream. Critics hailed his 1979 album "To Behold Jah," "one of the most important albums to come out of Canada" that year.

In 1981, Smith moved to Miami to be closer to his wife and children, later moving to Fort Lauderdale, but was beset by financial difficulties and which led to other problems. Smith found help in the form of Bob Marley's mother, Cedella Booker, with whom he collaborated as a songwriter, and in 1987, film director Perry Henzell asked Smith to write songs for his Marcus Garvey musical. Smith returned to Jamaica in the wake of Hurricane Gilbert, and began recording and performing again, initially with a new band, The New Agenda. In 1996, he released the "Dancehall Ernie Cleans It Up "album, featuring new recordings and some of his best known songs.

Smith, again hit center stage in 1997 with the Anthology “After 30 Years: Life is Just for Living” and a successful staging of a concert by the same name. In 2008, he returned with "Country Mile," an album that was preceded by the singles "That's The Kinda People We Are" (a duet with Pluto Shervington) and "You are a Lion" (featuring Ron Muschette).

— Nancy Burns-Fusaro

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