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The Mystery of Nora Dean

Page updated: 8/9/13

Singer Nora Dean is one of reggae’s greatest mysteries. She recorded solo, as well as a member of The Ebony Sisters, The Soul Sisters and The Soulettes. She did backing vocals on recordings by Jimmy Cliff. Although she was not a prolific artist (especially by reggae standards), a number of her songs are very fondly remembered by fans of Jamaican music as true reggae classics. This is because Nora Dean brought something extra to her best songs, making them unusual and endlessly enjoyable. And yet, there is little biographical information about her anywhere. No interviews with her have ever been published. Photos seemed to be non-existent. Go through every reggae book, documentary, and liner note of the dozens of compilations her classic tracks appear on; you’ll learn that Nora Dean was born in 1952, and nothing more. Google until the search results are exhausted and, all you’ll learn is how many people share her name. 

Somehow, the mystery is fitting for such an unusual singer.

Nora Dean is one of reggae’s best female vocalists. Listening to her music, it is immediately apparent that she has a great Jamaican voice. What might be slightly less obvious are the rich depths of her singing. This is what makes many of her recordings so special. An unexpected turn of melody, a well placed use of sounds instead of words, an emotional intensity and complexity that is very expressive. These are the hallmarks of the Nora Dean sound. Her songs are made all the more memorable by recording with some of Jamaica’s best producers, musicians and riddims. Oh, and there's also the sex. In all of her most memorable songs, there is sexuality. Each song presents a very different, unusual situation and the sexuality is always surprising. There's not a conventional love song in the bunch.

In “Barbwire” she plays babyishly naïve about a man’s advances. In “Mojo Girl”, she is serenely in full control. She lays down the law to her man, threatening him with black magic reprisals. In “Wreck A Buddy”, she is in desperate carnal need, with explicit lyrics to the melody of “Little Drummer Boy”. In “The Same Thing You Gave To Daddy”, she is in a battle of wills with her little boy, who won't go to sleep until he gets what Nora gave his daddy the night before. “Oh, no, no, no”, indeed! And in “Ay Ay Ay”, the music is deconstructed from reggae to a drone. Narrative is abandoned in favor of free association, and words become invocations that are supplemented with kisses, bird cries and groans of pure ecstasy.

But to be fair to the artist, Nora Dean would argue the point. She is a religious, righteous woman, who was born again in the late 1981. Some of her songs, she explained in early 2006, thought to be sexual in nature are actually misunderstood. In some cases, as a young girl she was pressured by producers to act outside of her character. (She was only about 15 when she started recording.) And at least one scandalous song, a cover of the mento song Night Food, Nora insists she did not record. She is upset that her name was affixed to a song she finds so repugnant.

The lyrical content aside, what is universally accepted is superb vocals and the enormous contribution that Nora Dean made to reggae music.  

This site was created by a fan of Nora Dean's music as a remembrance and celebration of her vibrant contribution to Jamaican music. This site is not for profit. There is nothing for sale on this site. Although the views are strictly that of the author, the views of Nora Dean are included when ever available. 


2003 news

Late in 2003, reggae fans in the UK were surprised to hear Nora Dean vocals TV commercial for Vasiline! The song used was "Listen to Mama" by Walkerman, which samples Nora's "Oh mama.." vocals from "Barbwire".


2006 news: A 1998 article from The Gleaner

In 2006, I was given a copy of an article on Nora Dean that appeared in Jamaica's daily newspaper, The Gleaner, from 1998. It provided more information about her than the sum of all previous writings combined. From this article we learn:

  • For a time, Nora Dean was a member of Rita Marley's group The Soulettes. The group had lost an original member, so Nora joined Rita and Cecile Campbell. Regrettably, as the group was about to tour Canada in support of their hit, "Let It Be", Nora was taken ill and had to be replaced by Hortense Lewis. This song has been added to the Other Nora Dean Recordings page.

    (Though not described in this article, the same Soulettes line-up also recorded an LP in 1970 backing singer Lloyd Wilks called "Jamaica Magic". For more on this release click here to be taken to a description on www.mentomusic.com. The picture, right, comes from that LP.)
 

The Soulettes, circa 1970.
Left to right,
Rita Marley, Nora Dean
and Cecile Campbell

 


2010 News

At the end of March 2010, I heard from Nora's niece Jenniene Buckanan with sad news:

Nora Dean's health has deteriorate and I am asking for prayers for her. She has a serious stroke last year that left her unable to sing. She has not only blessed us with her gift of music but have assisted someone at one time or another with a kind word or in deeds. Please come together as one and keep Nora in your thoughts and prayers. Thank you and God bless.


An Appeal

A reggae singer of this stature should not be veiled in obscurity. If you have any information on Nora Dean or about her recordings, please email me at mike@mentomusic.com. Any information or photos you can provide will be added to this site. I will credit you by name, unless you tell me to do otherwise.

Likewise, please email me if you have a Nora Dean recording that is not mentioned on this web page that you would like to share or trade. My goal for this site is to be able to describe all of Nora Dean's recordings. I've been unable to find:

Fire Deh A Town
Let Me Tell You Something
I've Got A Man
Old Fashion Love
Judge Dread Is My Lover 

-Michael Garnice, NYC
 February 2003 and on...

 

email me at:
mike@mentomusic.com

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