Roland Alphonso, the tenor saxophonist for the Skatalites, passed away early Friday morning, November 20th, after falling into a coma two days prior. Mr. Alphonso suffered a seizure while onstage with the Skatalites at the Key Club in West Hollywood on November 2nd. He was 67, and had been in failing health for a few years, having survived two heart attacks and a stroke.
It’s impossible to overestimate Mr. Alphonso’s importance to the music world. As a member of the Skatalites, he helped create ska, a music that directly begat rocksteady, reggae, dub, and dancehall. Its influence is felt in everything from gangsta rap to electronica. He was a composer, arranger, and most importantly, a musician of the highest caliber. He was also one of the few musicians ever to be “knighted” with the Order of Distinction by the Jamaican government. Without Mr. Alphonso and the Skatalites, the face of modern music would be significantly altered.
I met Mr. Alphonso only once, and only briefly, just a few months ago, the last time the Skatalites played in Tampa. My wife and I were sitting stageside watching the Strangeways and waiting for the Skatalites to come on. Mr. Alphonso came out to watch, and I offered him my seat. He tried to demure, but I could tell he was tired, and I insisted. When he got up to take the stage, he shook my hand and thanked me for the seat. “No,” I replied, “thank you for being here.” After the set, I helped him step down from the stage, and he was immediately overwhelmed by kids looking for autographs. As tired as he was, he stopped to sign his name for as long as he could.
I’ll always remember what a gentleman Mr. Alphonso was, even before I remember his music. He was a good man. I didn’t ask for his autograph, and I’m glad I didn’t. The memories are more than enough.
Rest in peace, Roland Alphonso. You are loved and missed.
Roland Alphonso was buried on November 28th at Evergreen Cemetery in Brooklyn, NY. To pay your respects, please address cards and letters to The Alphonso Family, 103-31 135th Street, Queens, NY 11419. There is a beautiful tribute site on the Web at http://nelson.olm.net/alphonsotribute.html. For more information on the contributions of Mr. Alphonso and the rest of the Skatalites, visit the official Web site at http://www.skatalites.com.