King Sporty, a Jamaican musician and songwriter who wrote the hit song “Buffalo Soldier” for Bob Marley, died on January 5, 2023, at the age of 71. He passed away at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami, with his wife, soul singer Betty Wright, by his side. His death was a great loss for the reggae world and the music industry in general.
A Prolific and Versatile Artist
King Sporty, whose real name was Noel Williams, was born in Portland, Jamaica, in 1952. He started his music career as a session player at Studio One, the legendary recording studio run by Clement Dodd. He also worked as a DJ and a producer, creating his own sound system called Soul Sound.
In 1965, he released his first single, “El Cid”, credited to King Sporty and Justin Yap. He later moved to Miami in the early 1970s, where he continued to produce and record music, experimenting with different genres such as funk, disco, and electro. He collaborated with artists like KC and the Sunshine Band, Bobby Caldwell, and Timmy Thomas, and had his own disco hits like “Do You Wanna Dance” and “Meet Me at the Disco”.
He also founded his own label, Konduko Records, and released several albums under his own name and as The Ex Tras. He was known for his innovative use of synthesizers and drum machines, creating a futuristic and danceable sound.
The Man Behind “Buffalo Soldier”
King Sporty’s most famous contribution to music was writing the lyrics for “Buffalo Soldier”, a song that was recorded by Bob Marley and the Wailers in 1980, and released posthumously in 1983. The song was a tribute to the African-American soldiers who fought in the American Civil War, and became one of Marley’s most popular and iconic songs.
King Sporty had met Marley in the late 1960s, when they were both working at Studio One. They became friends and collaborators, and Sporty gave Marley the idea for the song, based on his own research and interest in the history of the Buffalo Soldiers. He also helped Marley with the melody and the arrangement of the song, and received a co-writing credit for his work.
According to Soul and Jazz and Funk, King Sporty also wrote another song for Marley, called “Pimper’s Paradise”, which was included in the album Uprising. He also recorded his own version of “Buffalo Soldier”, which had a more upbeat and funky feel than Marley’s.
A Lifetime Achievement Award and a Lasting Legacy
In 2010, King Sporty received the Lifetime Achievement Award at the International Reggae and World Music Awards, in recognition of his long and successful career. He was also honored by the Jamaican government with the Order of Distinction in 2011.
King Sporty was married to Betty Wright, a famous R&B and soul singer, since 1985. They had a son, Noel Williams Jr., who is also a musician and a producer. Wright was with Sporty when he died, and expressed her grief and love for him on social media.
King Sporty’s cause of death was not officially announced, but according to WLRN, he had been suffering from health issues for a while. He was remembered by his fans and peers as a legend, a pioneer, and a friend, who left behind a rich and diverse musical legacy.