Vaughn Benjamin, the lead singer of Midnite and Akae Beka, has died. He was 50 years old. Benjamin’s death was confirmed on November 5 through posts on the reggae legend’s Facebook page. Benjamin’s cause of death has not been made public.
Benjamin formed Midnite with his brother, Ron Benjamin Jr., keyboard and bass player, in St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands in 1989. The pair are the sons of Antiguan music legend Ron Benjamin. An article on their father called Vaughn Benjamin “one of the most prolific writer’s Reggae music has ever seen.”
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Benjamin Had Reformed Midnite Without His Brother in 2015
In 2015, Benjamin reformed the group without his brother and renamed the band Akae Beka. Benjamin said that the band’s new name came from the Book of Enoch, chapter 68, verse 20-24. On the band’s official website, it says that Benjamin is “rooted firmly in the teachings of His Imperial Majesty, Emperor Haile Selassie I, his personal evolution and reaffirmed purpose is manifested in his newly declared name.”
In an interview about Akae Beka, Benjamin said the new band was “all part of the same conversation. I’m more or less putting forward what I’ve always put forward, which is original music, based in a historical view. We’re just doing what we have always done.”
Akae Beka had their first performance at a celebration for Nelson Mandela Day in Denver, Colorado, in July 2015. Benjamin said at the time that the concert came about following a “life-changing last few months.” An article on the band’s debut at the time said that the group had been inspired to come together as a result of “life changes, convictions and revelations.”
2. Benjamin Had Been Favorably Compared to Reggae Legends Bob Marley & Peter Tosh
Midnite released their first album in 1997, “Unpolished.” The band’s first widely available U.S. release was 1999’s “Ras Mek Peace.” The band recorded the album while living in Washington D.C. A review of the album described Benjamin as being “the pure and conscious voice of roots reggae.” The review went on to say, “Play this record next to any vintage record from the likes of Spear, Marley and Tosh and you’ll find it on par with these noble predecessors.”
3. Midnite’s 2014 Album ‘Beauty for Ashes’ Was Names as Reggae Album of the Year in 2015
The band was heavily featured in the 2014 documentary, “Escape To St. Croix.” In total, the band released 11 albums, the last coming in 2014, “Beauty for Ashes.” That record was named as iTunes Reggae Album of the Year for 2015.
On Akae Beka’s website, the bio says that Midnite were known during their five years living in Washington D.C. for performing three to five-hour sets.
4. Benjamin & His Brother Left the Virgin Island to Pursue Their Music in the U.S. in 1994
Benjamin said in a 2014 interview with Reggaeville that he had lost track of the number of albums he had created. Benjamin told the website, “I think it’s more than 50. To be honest there are many albums unreleased too so that’s why I haven’t made it an issue.” During that same interview, Benjamin spoke about being a feminist, the growing divide between the rich and the poor in the world as well as the growing number of greenhouse emissions.
A biography on Midnite said that the band relocated from their homeland in 1994 to live in New Jersey. From there, the band began touring across the east coast of the United States before settling in Washington D.C. Former Midnite drummer Ambrose Connor said of D.C. at the time, “The reggae scene in D.C. circa 1995 was crazy! You could see live reggae music almost 5 nights a week. We played clubs like the Roxy, Takoma Station, Mr. Henry’s, Kaffa House, State of the Union. The crowds were always positive and turn out was always good.”
5. Benjamin Expressed His Support for U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders in 2015
When it came to U.S. politics, Benjamin expressed support for U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders in 2015. Benjamin said in an interview, “Bless, man. King Rastafari, bless. Bless all of Vermont,” when asked about Sanders.
When asked about the election, Benjamin said that due to his religious beliefs he liked to keep his politics to himself. However, Benjamin went on to say “But I do know that being candid, being forthright, being truthful, the people who are most fundamentally based in principle, they will end up having the most appeal in times when people are in desperate situations and looking for stability.”