A service of thanksgiving for the life of Major Joe Williams, one of Jamaica’s most distinguished musicians, is scheduled for today at 10:00 am Jamaica time (11:00 am New York time), his family has announced.
Major Williams, who passed away peacefully on April 25, 2020, was 87. Due to the COVID-19 gathering restrictions the thanksgiving service — which is being held at Garrison Church of the Ascension inside the Jamaica Defence Force’s (JDF) Up Park Camp headquarters in St Andrew — is open to immediate family members only.
However, it will be live streamed, beginning at approximately 9:45 am (Jamaica time), at www.majorjoewilliams. com. Joseph “Joe” Benjamin Williams was born in Spanish Town, St Catherine, on March 2, 1933 to David and Imogene Williams. He attended private and all-age schools in Central Village and White Marl, St Catherine.
After the death of his parents he moved to Kingston and lived with an aunt on Tower Street in Central Kingston. He attended Wesley All-Age and Kingston Technical High schools.
During his years in Central Kingston, he became familiar with the Jamaica Military Band, which was stationed nearby and played regularly at the world-famous Myrtle Bank Hotel in downtown Kingston.
Williams was impressed by the picturesque sight of members of the band marching down Rosemary Lane in their Zouave uniforms to go to their engagements, entertaining the rich and famous.
On February 14, 1951, he joined the Jamaica Military Band — which was a part of the Jamaica Local Forces — as an apprentice on the clarinet, serving through the various stages through to bandsman.
While serving as a bandsman, he occupied the positions of librarian, storeman and programmer, and was rewarded in 1959 with a promotion to the rank of corporal.
During his early years in the band, Williams showed keen interest in all types of music and made a study of the varying aspects of the art, including arranging and composing. His efforts were highlighted when he composed and arranged the music for the Little Theatre Movement’s 1960/61 Pantomime Carib Gold.
In 1962, he composed a march, Independence Day, and did the first Military Band arrangement of the present Jamaica National Anthem for submission to the committee appointed to select the National Anthem.
In the same year, he arranged the music for Legend of Old Port Royal for Madam Soohih’s Ballet School and Jamaican Fruits (a ballet) for Rowe’s School of Dance.
Both were used on the ‘Roots and Rhythm’ show at the Little Theatre. Williams played clarinet and saxophone with many dance bands, among them Redver Cook, Ivy Graydon, Lord Fly, Carlos Malcolm, and the Vivian Hall band with the late, great trombonist Don Drummond.
Under his leadership the Caribbean Orchestra backed up many artistes onstage and on records, notably Independent Jamaica and Ma and Pa, sung by Lord Creator (also both arranged by Williams).
He also played with the Jamaica Philharmonic Orchestra for a number of years. In 1962 when Jamaica gained Independence, the Jamaica Military Band became a part of the JDF, placing the members under full military command.
Shortly after becoming a part of the JDF, Williams was selected in 1963 to represent Jamaica at the Trade Fair held in Chicago, USA, where he spent one month. On his return to Jamaica, he was greeted with the good news that he was promoted to the rank of sergeant.
This was the start of more good news to come, as in 1964 he applied for and received a scholarship to the Royal Military School of Music (Kneller Hall), England, to be taken up in April 1965.
At Kneller Hall, Williams studied for three years to become a bandmaster/director of music. He also studied advanced harmony and counterpoint, instrumentation, arranging, orchestration (string quartets and two-part inventions), conducting (band, orchestra, choral), composition, theory of music, and teaching.
During his time there, he played in the director’s band on many occasions, at places such as The Royal Festival Hall, Royal Albert Hall with the London Philharmonic Orchestra, BBC Light Concert Orchestra, BBC-TV, The Queen’s Birthday Parade, the Lord Mayor’s Parade, and others. On graduation Williams won the Graham Wallace Award for being The Best Overseas Student (1967).
Among his other scholastic achievements were a diploma in composition and arrangement from University Extension Conservatory, Chicago, USA; a certificate in journalism, UK; and a certificate in speech and voice production from City Literary Institute, London.
Williams also successfully undertook the directing/bandmastership course at the Royal College of Music, among other requirements, conducting the Irish Guard Band in a rehearsal of the slow movement of Dvorak’s New World Symphony and at a concert performance of the masterpiece Der Freischϋtz by Weber.
On his return to Jamaica in 1968, Williams was promoted to warrant officer class I and appointed bandmaster of the Jamaica Military Band in November of that year, thereby becoming the first qualified Jamaican to be appointed to that post.
Under his leadership, the Jamaica Military Band made its second long-playing record in 1970 and continued its wide range of local activities giving public concerts in the Corporate Area and other parishes. After six years as bandmaster, he was commissioned in the rank of lieutenant in 1974 and appointed the first Jamaican director of music, Jamaica Defence Force.
On January 1, 1976, he was promoted to the rank of captain, and subsequently major in 1982.
The Jamaica Military Band gained much popularity under his command and made several overseas tours including trips to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba (USA Change of Command Ceremony); Barbados; Trinidad and Tobago; Puerto Rico; the Cayman Islands (Pirates’ Week); the United Kingdom; and several cities in the United States, with the special honour of leading the parade and performing at the half-time show at the 13th Super Bowl at the Orange Bowl in Miami in 1979.
He served the JDF and Military Band for over 40 years and retired in 1995. His last parade in uniform saw him presiding over the most prestigious ceremonial parade in the British Commonwealth as the director of music at the Trooping the Colour parade in the presence of Her Majesty The Queen at Up Park Camp, on March 2, 1994.
At this ceremony he had the distinction of conducting the Massed Bands and Drums of the JDF with over 100 players.
Throughout his career he received many awards for his contribution to music, including the Order of Distinction Officer Class in 1990; Jamaica Independence Medal in 1962; Institute of Jamaica Centenary Medal in 1980 for contribution to cultural development in Jamaica in the field of music; the prestigious Silver Musgrave Medal from the Institute of Jamaica in 1987 for contribution to the arts; a Jamaica Music Industry Award in 1998; and a Jamaica Reggae Industry Association Mentorship Honour Award in 2015 for extraordinary impact on the music industry.
Major Williams’ contribution was not confined to music, as he gave service to the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission as chairman of the Festival Song Competition from 1968 for seven years, and chairman of the National Music Committee. He was a founder of the Jamaica Copyright Licensing Agency, which he served as vice-chairman for 10 years.
Major Williams made his contribution to the development of music in Jamaica not only as a player, writer, and conductor but also as a lecturer and teacher at many institutions, including with Excelsior High School Band and Kingston College Band in the 1960s, Immaculate Conception High School Orchestra in 1994, and at the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts, School of Music.
Sports played a great part in his life, as during his college years in England he represented Jamaican teams at cricket, table tennis, football, and athletics.
Highlights of his work, life, and musical contribution to the history of Jamaica are documented in the archives of the National Library of Jamaica and are also chronicled in his autobiography The Maestro Speaks of his Musical Journey, published in 2014, which tells of his love and dedication to music.
His other publications are Harmony & Arranging, and Joe Williams’ Compositions – a Variety Collection.
Major Williams is survived by his widow Dahlia (Babs), children Joyce McDonald, Joan Moller-Jensen, John Williams, Rose Richardson, Jacqueline (Sally) Bennett, and Debra Dodd; grandchildren and other relatives, many JDF colleagues and friends. Thanksgiving service today for veteran JDF bandmaster Major Joe Williams WILLIAMS…passed away peacefully on April 25.
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