Born Byron Aloysius St. Elmo Lee, in Christiana, Manchester, Jamaica, was a musician, record producer, and entrepreneur, best known for his work as leader of Byron Lee and the Dragonaires.
Byron was born in Christiana, Manchester, He learned to play piano at a convent school in Mandeville, but put music on hold when he became a member of the Jamaican national football team. He taught himself to play bass on a homemade instrument, and around 1950, along with his friend Carl Brady, he formed the first incarnation of the Dragonaires, named after the college football team that they played for, at that time concentrating on mento. The band turned professional in 1956 and went on to become one of Jamaica's leading ska bands, continuing since and taking in other genres such as calypso, and Soca.
Lee also worked as a producer, producing many of the ska singles by The Maytals, and his entrepreneurial skills led to him setting up the Byron Lee's Spectacular Show tour, which involved several Jamaican acts (including The Maytals) touring the Caribbean. He also became the head of distribution in Jamaica for Atlantic Records. Lee purchased the West Indies Records Limited (WIRL) recording studios from Edward Seaga after fire had destroyed the pressing plant on the same site, and renamed it Dynamic Sounds, soon having a new pressing facility built on the site. It soon became one of the best-equipped studios in the Caribbean, attracting both local and international recording artists, including Paul Simon and The Rolling Stones. Lee's productions included Boris Gardiner's Reggae Happening, Hopeton Lewis's Grooving Out on Life, and The Slickers' "Johnny Too Bad". Dynamic also acts as one of Jamaica's leading record distributors.
In 1990, Byron inaugurated what became an annual event, the Byron Lee Jamaica Carnival, held on Constant Spring Road, an event that Byron calls "the happiest moment in my life". Byron had performed with the Dragonaires at carnivals around the Caribbean since the mid-1970s, and chose the location for the carnival to attract revellers from all of Jamaica's classes, stating "The biggest problem was that most Jamaicans said it wouldn't work, that it isn't a carnival country, but I persisted 'cause I believed in it. While in the early days of ska, Byron was credited in taking it from the ghettos and giving it appeal among Jamaica's "uptown" middle and upper classes, he has been credited with taking soca in the opposite direction, popularising a genre that had previously only been enjoyed in Jamaica among the upper classes, with the island's working class.
Byron Lee was awarded the Order of Distinction in 1982, upgraded to Commander level on 15 October 2007, in recognition of his "contribution in the fields of Music and Entertainment both locally and internationally".
In October 2008, after receiving treatment for several weeks in Florida, Lee returned to spend his final days in Jamaica. In a ceremony at the University Hospital of the West Indies on October 26, 2008, he was awarded the Order of Jamaica (OJ). In a statement the Prime Minister of Jamaica, Bruce Golding, said "Jamaica, and indeed the world, has lost another great music pioneer with the passing this morning of Byron Lee, one of the greatest band leaders ever to grace the entertainment stages of the world".