Art

NATIONAL MERRI MUSIC DAY | October 25

NATIONAL MERRI MUSIC DAY | October 25
NATIONAL MERRI MUSIC DAY | October 25

NATIONAL MERRI MUSIC DAY | October 25

October 25 celebrates National Merri Music Day to honor the original Jamaican concept that became the oldest sound system on the planet.

#NationalMerriMusicDay

On National Merri Music Day, we are celebrating the Merritone Sound System that provides Merritone Music and encouraging  everyone to learn about the historical movement we have been dancing to since the 1940s.

A Merritone Sound System consists of huge wooden boxes amplifying music from turntables. Before the Merritone Sound System, musical entertainment for events came from live bands, preventing lower class people the privilege of enjoying dance parties. After the introduction of the sound system, contemporary music was brought to working class people in houses, lawns, and dancehalls.

How old is Merritone Music? Originating over 55 years ago, Merritone Music began in Morat Bay, which is the capital of the parish of St. Thomas in southeastern Jamaica. Val Blake receives credit for starting the music sound in 1950. Blake’s interest in Latin music and dances, such as cha cha cha, waltz, and slow love songs, would create the foundation of Merritone Music.

Iconic Influence

Merritone Music receives credit for directly influencing the rise of ska, reggae, rock steady, and the present-day dancehall music culture. In fact, unlike live music where a single or a few genres of music are played, Merritone Music offers a variety of Jamaican mento, calypso, American R&B, and country during a party.

Many musicians and producers sought out Merritone Music to play their records. Often they would play songs not found on the radio. In fact, they were famous for making B-side records popular. Because of that, local artists flocked to Merritone Music performances to ask for assistance to make their music hits. Their influence made local artists highly successful.

MERRI SOUNDING MUSIC

  • Learn the complete history of the Merritone Sound System.
  • Attend a club using the Merritone Sound System.
  • Research Jamaican culture and history.
  • Make plans to attend a future Merritone Reunion.
  • Share and post your Merritone Music stories using #NatianalMerriMusicDay.

HISTORICAL SOUND

National Day Calendar gives credit to Monique Blake of Merritone Music Inc. as the founder of National Merri Music Day. The day honors her father Winston Blake’ birthday, October 25. Winston Blake is credited with making Merritone Music a national treasure and international phenomena.

Merritone Music is the last ‘sound’ standing. It is the only sound system that originated in the sound system era that continues to play. In addition, it is the only sound system to play on all modern musical formats from shellack 78 RPM and vinyl records, 8 track, cassette, CDs, and digital music.

Merritone Memories

Winston Blake was born on November 19, 1940 to Ruthlyn and Winston St. Valentine “Val” Blake in the eastern Jamaican parish of St. Thomas. Ruthlyn died while Winston was a child, leaving behind her husband “Val” and three brothers, Trevor, Tyrone, and Monte. Val was a Public Works employee and Phillips Electronics salesman making ends meet. The four boys would urge their father to for a sound system and play at events as an additional way to generate income. In the beginning, Val resisted because sound systems were considered a dishonorable middle class pursuit. However, like many middle class youths of the era, the Blake boys embraced the movement.

Trevor and Winston took charge after Val died in 1956. Trevor would eventually migrate to the U.S., leaving Winston and his 2 younger brothers to continue Merritone. The Blake brothers stood out as the only sound that would feature a family of DJs . And while all brothers played, Winston and Monte are the two most recognized selectors.

Facts and Tidbits

During the 1960s, Winston began making Merritone Music a national treasure and international phenomena. As the first sound system to play at a hotel, Merritone Music began a life-long quest to break down social barriers. In the 1970s, he started the Merritone VIP Talent Show that discovered some of Jamaica’s most prominent singers. Some of those singers include:

  • Cynthia ‘Songbird’ Schloss
  • Beresford Hammond
  • The Tamlins
  • Jacob Miller
  • Ruddy Thomas
  • The Mighty Diamonds.

Merritone Music began playing in New York in the late 60s, but it was not until the 70s that international tours became a mainstay. The played in US cities like Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, New York, as well as Toronto and London where Merritone fans moved to during the Great Migration. It was the first Jamaican based sound system to play internationally.

In 1972, Winston opened the Turntable Club. It became the home of Merritone Music for the next 29 years. It was the site of the first live recording session at a night club in Jamaica featuring Dennis Brown. Entertainers like Marvin Gaye, Keith Richards, Johnny Nash, Bob Marley, and Jimmy Cliff would gather at this magical place.

Turntable Club is Jamaica’s longest running night club. In fact, in honor of its contribution to Jamaica’s musical culture, Turntable Club was designated a National Heritage site in 2018.

Awards

1997: The government of Jamaica awarded Winston Blake with the Order of Distinction (OD), the highest civilian recognition, in honor of his contributions to Jamaican music.

2000: St Thomas Municipal Council renamed Bay Mount (the original Merritone Music home site) to Blake Hill in recognition of Merritone Music’s 50th anniversary.

2000: Reggae Canada honored Winston Blake with the Icons Award.

2008: The United States House of Representatives 11th Congressional district honored Winston Blake for contribution to Brooklyn, NY and its citizens.

2008: University of West Indies, Mona School of Business held a Symposium on Merritone Sound System as one of Jamaica’s longest running family-owned businesses.

2012: Nassau County New York honored Winston Blake for his dedicated service to the community.

2015: International Reggae Day honors Merritone Music with a Pioneer Sound Award

2017: JARIA (Jamaica Reggae Industry Association) posthumously honors Winston Blake for exceptional contribution to the reggae industry.