PASTOR DELROY “ZION” WILLIS PUTS A ‘STUR’ IN CARIBBEAN GOSPEL MUSIC

By Baldwin Howe

 

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Reggaetimes photo

Pastor Delroy “Zion” Willis is a man who has the uncanny ability to create a stur’ in the Jamaican music industry. This ability, he discovered he possessed while still a teenager. As a-matter-of-fact, he actually began singing and displaying a keen interest in music from the age of 7. Having being brought up in Trench Town, a rough inner city environment, he was encouraged to join his church’s choir very early by a member of the church he attended weekly with his aunt. In his early teen years, Delroy Willis began writing songs. This endeavour led to him penning and subsequently recording a song titled, “I Can’t Stand It” for then record Producer, Rob Rock. “I Can’t Stand It” became a hit and was later re-recorded by the late Delroy Wilson and Dennis Brown respectively, and also Alton Ellis. Lyn Tate And the Jets, a popular band of the mid to late 1960s, was the band that backed Delroy Willis on “I Can’t Stand It” and a follow up single he also released then titled, “It Seems.”

Delroy Willis moved on to also become a record producer and in the latter part of the 1960s moving into the 70s he wrote and recorded the songs, “Boat Ride and “I’ve Got To Move”, both of which he recorded in combination with Keeling Beckford.

The year 1973 was a turning point in Delroy Willis’ life. In that year he ceased being a secular singer and became a baptized Christian. The urge, however, to continue creating music kept burning within him. Soon after, he became a member of the Progressive Gospel Band, with whom he wrote and recorded his first gospel song titled, “What A Day.” Delroy Willis’ sojourn with the Progressive Gospel Band was short-lived and he went on to become a member of the Insight Gospel Band. Delroy stayed with ‘Insight’ for a brief while then left to become a member of the then newly formed Grace Thrillers Gospel Group, led by his cousin, Noel Willis. During his stint with the Grace Thrillers, he served as a soloist as well as the group’s public relations officer.

After parting company with the Grace Thrillers, Delroy Willis produced and recorded two gospel albums as a solo act, namely, “Christ Have The Power To Save” and “Delroy Willis Sings – How Great Thou Art.” The release of these two albums propelled Delroy Willis in becoming a household name in Jamaica’s gospel music circles. He was now in demand to perform at crusades, gospel concerts as well as church services. Delroy Willis later became a participant in the Reverend Vivian Burke’s “Gospel Train” concert series. He has also ministered here in Jamaica as well as the Bahamas and North America.

After the success of his two albums, Delroy Willis took a 17-year hiatus from the music business and recording, due to him being committed to strengthening his family structure. This, however, did not curtail his Christian ministerial work and he remained in demand for appearance at gospel show events and crusades.

In 2002, Delroy Willis, who is now the Pastor and head of the Portmore branch of the Valley Christian Ministries International situated in Braeton, Greater Portmore, re-emerged with a ‘bang’ on to the Jamaican gospel music recording scene. He told Reggae Times he was inspired to return in order to offer assistance to one of Jamaica’s veteran guitarist, Alva “Reggie” Lewis, (formerly of the Hippy Boys and the Upsetters),who had fallen on hard times. The song he wrote and produced to do this is, “God’s Love Is Burning.” This song was the first ever gospel song to be distributed nationally and internationally by Tuff Gong International. The proceeds that accrued from the sale of this single went to Alva “Reggie” Lewis.

The release of, “God’s Love Is Burning”, kick-started and re-ignited Delroy Willis’s interest in producing and recording gospel music once again. Hence, he quickly followed up “God’s Love” with another single titled “Lord God Almighty” which became an instant hit that immediately registered Delroy Willis re-emergence as a major force on the Caribbean gospel music scene.

Encouraged by the success of the two above-mentioned singles Delroy Willis then decided to create his own record company and label, The Three Miles Music Family, situated at 176 Spanish Town Road, Kgn. 11. On this, his Three Miles Music Family record label Delroy has gone onto release his latest CD album titled “Jubilation Time”, on which is featured two of his most recent monster hits, “Zion 2000” and “Who.” The album is highly acclaimed in both the secular and religious music circles. It is also receiving wide and frequent rotations on all the national radio stations. One of the plus that is attributed to the success of the album is its utilization of hardcore reggae rhythms. Delroy Willis considers his decision to use hardcore reggae/dancehall rhythms as a mean of sanitizing the music of Jamaica, which, seem to him, to be growing ever more ‘murky’ because of its propagation of negative themes. He thinks the blending of the genre with religious themes and lyrics will assist in moving Jamaica forward positively, under god.

The Jubilation Time album, was released this year and is currently gaining rave reviews. Since releasing, “Jubilation Time”, Delroy Willis has also recorded two new singles, one titled, “Stur Me Lord”, which he has since then added to the “Jubilation Time album as a bonus track. The other single is titled, “One Ground” which he is about to release as a solo single.

He also revealed to Reggae Times that the proceed received from the sale of “Jubilation Time” will go towards assisting in building a worship centre at ground level for his church’s elderly members who find it difficult to access the church’s current worship centre which is situated upstairs the Braeton Gate Building in Greater Portmore. He has also revealed that he hopes to build an educational centre for young kids and high school dropouts, as well as a Golden Age Home for the elderly.

Delroy Willis is resolute as his mission continues and he is certainly creating a ‘stur’, as he describes it. He knows and sees his gospel ministry as one that is bent on transforming the Caribbean and International gospel music scene to one of true love, positivity and praise to God, through the medium of real, hardcore, ‘one-drop’ Reggae music.

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