Musical Youth, the child novelty act, had the good fortune of finding fame in England and America on the back of their smash hit “Pass The Dutchie“. They toured the world at the height of their fame and dined with notables, but within three years all fizzled out.
The group formed in 1979 at Duddeston Manor School, Birmingham, England as a pop/reggae influenced group, featured two sets of brothers, Kelvin and Michael Grant, as well as, Junior and Patrick Waite. In addition was Frederick Waite, father to the Waite brothers who was a former member of Jamaican group The Techniques. He would sing lead with Junior at the start of the group’s career in the late 1970s.
Young and still in school, the group nonetheless managed to secure gigs at Birmingham pubs and released a single, “Political”/”Generals“, on local label 021 Records. They will attract more eye balls with an appearance on BBC disc jockey John Peel’s evening show.
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Their efforts were recognized by MCA Records which signed the group. By this time, founding father Frederick Waite had backed down, to be replaced by Dennis Seaton as lead singer.
During the winter of 1982, the group issued one of the fastest-selling singles of the year in “Pass the Dutchie.” Based on the Mighty Diamonds “Pass The Kouchie” (a song about cannabis). Musical Youth, however, altered the title to feature the patois “dutchie” referring to a type of pot used for cooking.
The song quickly appealed to political and economic marginalized people globally and with the group’s electric performances, the record was propelled to Number 1 in the UK singles chart. It was a hit across Europe and reached the top 10 in America.
“Pass The Dutchie” went on to sell over four million copies, earning a Grammy nomination. The video made them the first black artists to be played on MTV – beating Michael Jackson by several months.
To put things in perspective, Michael Grant was nine years old in 1979, when he and his guitarist brother Kelvin, then seven, joined Musical Youth.
Retaining the attention of fickle music audiences is always difficult and for Musical Youth, they were restricted by guidelines protecting child performers. “We could only work 42 days of the year, and we were trying to compete against guys that toured for 18 months solid,” the elder Grant observed.
Another challenge the group faced was finding themselves trapped in a musical no-man’s land, once the excitement around Pass the Dutchie fizzled, as their music was aimed not at serious music fans, but children. “We were seen as a novelty, not just because of our age, but because of the color of our skin,” Grant said, adding: “There weren’t any role models around our age, there weren’t any black kids on TV, so we were setting a lot of trends.”
“The group’s next offering “Youth Of Today“, reached the UK Top 20, and early in 1983, “Never Gonna Give You Up”, climbed to UK Number 6. Minor successes with “Heartbreaker” and “Tell Me Why” were succeeded by a surprise collaboration with Donna Summer on the UK Top 20 hit “Unconditional Love”. A revival of Desmond Dekker’s “007” saw them back in the Top 30, but after one final hit with “Sixteen”, they fell from commercial grace, and subsequently split up in 1985 when Seaton left the band.”
The band, which featured vocalist Dennis Seaton, keyboardist Michael Grant, and the Waite brothers — Patrick, who played bass and Freddie Junior, who played drums had gone their separate ways.
The group of five British children although tasted some success, soon found things to be spiraling out of control. Drugs use, mental instability, lawlessness, financial wrangling and premature death had a toll on them. Curiously, all these happened to boys who had barely hit puberty at the height of their success.
According to Michael Black, who outlived his band mates, “Artists get ripped off, child stars get ripped off,” stressing “We were doomed from the start, really.”
By the late 1990s, Musical Youth had passed into history and then in 1998, Seaton’s former manager David Morgan heard Pass The Dutchie on the soundtrack of 1980s-themed romantic comedy hit The Wedding Singer. When he made enquiries whether the group was receiving any royalty, he got to know they weren’t and got about £20,000 for them.
Even more bizarre, was that the members of Musical Youth had not received any royalty accounting from their record label since 1986.
It took Morgan two and a half years to sort through Musical Youth’s business affairs and then launched a £2m claim for unpaid royalties, damages and interest on the money owed Musical Youth. Eventually in December 2002, MCA/Universal settled out of court in the region of a seven-figure sum.