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Sweet 16 for Witty and Uptown Mondays

BY HOWARD CAMPBELL
Observer senior writer

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

IT'S been some time since Whitfield “Witty” Henry celebrated his 16th birthday. But on October 16, he had another reason to celebrate the occasion.

Henry and a packed house at Savannah Plaza in St Andrew celebrated the Sweet 16 anniversary of Uptown Mondays, the popular weekly dance he started in 2001.

Dancehall and roots reggae's finest stepped out to help him celebrate the milestone. 'Guests' included Beenie Man, Bounty Killer, Popcaan, Mavado, Dexta Daps, Singer J, Johnny Osbourne, and Horace Andy.

Henry, 63, basked in the moment. He started Uptown Mondays at the same location he operated a record store during the 1980s, producing hit songs by Shelly Thunder, Ninjaman, Shabba Ranks, and Sluggy Ranks.

“Wi get good support over the years, although it tek a little while to get off the ground,” Henry told the Jamaica Observer. “One of the great thing 'bout Uptown Mondays is yuh si people pushing cart from downtown to sell an' mek a money to send dem youth to school.”

The burly Henry said he started the dance to expose upcoming artistes and dancers. Entertainers could get their new songs played on his Soul Tone sound system, while dancers and dance groups would show off their moves throughout the night.

That strategy, he boasted, has worked. Uptown Mondays helped give artiste/dancers like Ding Dong and his Ravers Clavers crew their start.

“Artistes an' producers can come here an' hear dem songs an' si how people respond to dem at di same time. Then yuh have people who jus' come out to enjoy themselves an' hear dem favourite songs,” he explained.

Henry has been in music circles since his youth. His father, Ludlow Henry, was a mortician who started Soul Tone in 1968; he was also first president of the Jamaica Sound System Association.

While at Kingston College, his contemporaries included future music producers Augustus “Gussie” Clarke and Donovan Germain. Henry's foray into music production began in the late 1970s with “no name artistes; and it was not until the 1980s that he tasted chart success with his Music Master and Witty Music labels.

Shelly Thunder's man-beater anthem, Kuff, got the ball rolling. That was followed by Shabba's Love Punaany Bad, Teach The Youths by Barrington Levy, Sluggy Ranks' 95 % Black, and Take Time to Know Her by Tinga Stewart and Ninjaman.

Henry also operated a record store and did productions in Brooklyn, New York. He is not keen to make a return to music production.

“Mi give dat a break, is too much hard work. All my time now is with Uptown Mondays,” he said.