KINGSTON, Jamaica — Growing up in London, singer Maxi Priest looked up to his uncle Sydney Elliott, a vocalist who recorded in the 1960s.
He did not know until his teens that one of Uncle Sydney’s sons was Jacob Miller, the charismatic roots singer and front-man for the Inner Circle band.
Priest’s father Alfred was Sydney Elliott’s older brother. Jacob Miller used his mother’s surname.
“I always loved up to my uncle. When we went to his home it was an experience. I even have one of his songs on my website,” said Priest.
The Elliotts are from Ballard’s Valley in St Elizabeth. They migrated to the United Kingdom in the late 1950s; Alfred and his wife Hyacinth settled in Lewisham, south-east London, while Sydney lived in Kent.
Maxi Priest, who is in his early 50s, reflected on his Jamaican roots during a recent interview with OBSERVER ONLINE. He is promoting his new album, ‘Easy to Love’, which will be released June 10 by VP Records.
He says he is also related to singer Fred Locks and the late rapper Heavy D. The latter’s mother (‘Miss Etta’) was his mother’s cousin and also came from Ballard’s Valley.
Priest (real name Max Elliott) is the eighth of Alfred and Hyacinth’s nine children. Four of them were born in London.
He remembers growing up in a “very Jamaican household”, but says things were not as cozy on the outside.
“There was a lot of discrimination…Nigger this, nigger that. Go back to your country. We went through all of that,” he said.
Priest last visited Ballard’s Valley in April.
Maxi Priest never met Jacob Miller who died in 1980 in an auto accident. His career took off during that decade when lovers rock reggae was the rage in England.
In the 1990s, Maxi Priest had a remarkable hit run with songs like ‘Close to You’ and ‘Set the Night to Music’ (with Roberta Flack) which both went number one in the United States.