Alpha Boys School: Cradle of Jamaican Music

Author(s): Heather Augustyn; Adam Reeves

Music Biography

Facing a life of poverty, neglect, abandonment and even homelessness, young Jamaican boys are placed in a disciplinarian Catholic boarding school. With a rigorous musical training program overseen by an eccentric jazz-loving nun, the young virtuoso graduates of Alpha Boys' School went on to change the shape of music forever.

It's the 1950s in Jamaica and a musical revolution is brewing. People all over Kingston dance nightly to vast outdoor sound systems blasting American rhythm and blues records across the shanty towns. In the hotels and theaters big bands are playing jazz and calypso. Street musicians are playing home-grown folk music called mento. Out of this musical stew, Jamaica will soon birth a dance music all of its own, a sound that will conquer the globe. Starting with ska in the early 1960s, followed by rocksteady, eventually arriving at reggae in 1969, a group of virtuoso graduates of a Roman Catholic boarding school spearhead a musical and cultural revolution that still reverberates around the world over half a century later.

The Sisters of Mercy nuns at Alpha provided a home alongside industrial trades apprenticeships and religious indoctrination. One in particular, Sister Mary Ignatius, dedicated 64 years of her life to running the school's music program. Her deep appreciation of jazz and her sense of fun endeared her to the boys in the band, inspiring them to attain greatness. From early Jamaican jazz giants like Joe Harriott and Dizzy Reece to the greatest ska band of all time, The Skatalites, and some of reggae's most inspirational artists such as Cedric Brooks, Johnny Osbourne, Leroy Smart and Yellowman, the Alpha story is the untold history of Jamaican music.

Join Heather Augustyn and Adam Reeves as they delve into the history of this remarkable institution and reveal the life and works of 47 of the greatest Alpha boys. The culmination of many combined years of work, using musicians' personal recollections and a wealth of rarely seen photographs, Alpha Boys' School: Cradle of Jamaican Music will take you to the heart of the Jamaica music story.

Whether you are a lover of original ska and rocksteady, roots, dub, dancehall and beyond, these stories will take you deeper into the music. If you enjoyed Solid Foundation: An Oral History of Reggae by David Katz, Bass Culture by Lloyd Bradley or So Much Things To Say: The Oral History of Bob Marley by Roger Steffens, then this is definitely for you.


The book's two authors have gleaned a wealth of new information and insights via their detailed interviews with the school's former pupils, making this volume not only a fine tribute to the school but also a significant contribution to the ongoing documentation of Jamaica's musical heritage. Steve Barker, Wire Magazine.

...If you're interested in the development of ska and reggae music, this is well worth seeking out. John Masouri, Echoes Magazine.

This engaging book ultimately heightens Alpha's perpetual contribution to the evolution of Jamaican popular music. David Katz, Mojo magazine.

A very welcome reference book who's lightness of touch serves the weight of its subject. Kevin Le Gendre, Jazzwize magazine.


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Product Information

General Fields

  • : 9780692980736
  • : Half Pint Press
  • : November 2017
  • : .91 Inches X 6 Inches X 9 Inches
  • : books

Special Fields

  • : Heather Augustyn; Adam Reeves
  • : Paperback
  • : English
  • : 400