Carlene Davis continues to win people over…

Egbert Gaye

Today, the name Dr. Carlene Davis-Cowan has taken its rightful place in the annals of Jamaican musical history.
In a land where the illustrious list of iconic music stars is seemingly endless, Carlene Davis, as she is known on stage, has distinguished herself by her longevity in the industry and an unfettered commitment to uplift others with her music.
“When you have an assignment in your life, you know that there’s work to be fulfilled and that’s why it’s easy to continue,” she told The CONTACT in a recent telephone interview.
After more than four decades on the circuit and a few significant upheavals in her life, Davis, who was born in Clarendon, lived in the UK and Canada before moving back to Jamaica in the mid-1980s, remains tireless in using her music as an instrument of spiritual upliftment for others.
Today with a recently-released album in hand, she is set to hit the international circuit one more time to share her musical ministry with audiences far and wide. She will be in Montreal on April 13 for a fundraising concert at Evangel Pentecostal Church, downtown.
“Yes, I still enjoy travelling and sharing the message of the Lord. For me it’s not the journey, it’s being at the destination and blessing people with the word of God.”
The passion and enthusiasm she still exudes for making music and performing after so many years on stage stem from the fact that it has been her calling from almost Day One.
As a pre-teenager her parents migrated to England and she was left with her grandparents in Jamaica, she remembers those cherished opportunities she had singing with her grandfather as he played the violin, guitar and other instruments almost every other day.
While my siblings and friends were outside playing, I preferred to remain inside and sing with my grandpa, who was a really good musician.”
The music continued upon moving to the UK, where in high school she was the one called upon to lead the choir or be in other performances.
As a teenager she had a band in school and one in the community performing in what was known then as the working man’s clubs.
“I did pretty well back then performing at events in the community and around the town where we lived. In the back of my mind, I knew this is what I wanted to do and began harboring plans to move to London to go after a musical career.”
However, her life took a turn that led her to Toronto, where she lived for several years. And it was there that she built on the musical foundation that she had laid down as a solo act and as lead singer for several bands.
“Those were challenging but exciting times,” she recalls. “I remember putting bands together and working the night club and hotel circuit as well as the Caribbean party scene, especially around Caribana time.”
Among the many highlights she remembers of her time in Toronto is opening for Sting and The Police at Massey Hall as well as performing on Canada AM in 1980, and a special performance of the Percy Sledge hit, “Many Rivers to Cross” on a CBC Gospel event.
She also recorded her first single in T.O.
After a lot of back and forth between Canada and Jamaica in the early 80s, she moved back home permanently in 1983 determined to take her music to another level.
It paid off, because it wasn’t long before her talent and resolve pushed her to the top as she began to put together a string of hits that established her as the “songbird of the Caribbean” and true royalty in the palace of reggae music with songs such as the memorable‘Stealing Love on The Side, ‘Winnie Mandela,’ ‘My Forever Friend,’ ‘Santa Claus Do You Ever Come To The Ghetto,’ ‘Dial My Number,’ and‘Stand Up.’
To date she has recorded over 15 albums and has travelled the world wowing audiences on stages in Japan, Europe, The US, Canada, across South America and the Caribbean, with her scintillating voice and magnetic personality.
However, in 1996, in the midst of her glorious journey, came another turning point in life: a cancer diagnosis, which she described as an event that changed her attention and focus“from Carlene, Carlene to Jesus, Jesus. God got my attention. I had no clue what the outcome would be, but I knew life will never be the same.”
Davis says what followed was a “total surrender to the Lord.” And thus began a new phase of her life.
“I was fortunate that my husband was following the same path as I was and that my stepchildren were believers also, so it was an easy transition.”
Married to Tommy Cowan, a stalwart in the music industry in Jamaica and childhood friend of Bob Marley, the husband and wife team eased away from the secular stage.
And through their event and management agency, Glory Music, they soon established the largest Gospel festival in the country, Gospel Train, which travelled to almost every major parish across Jamaica with a caravan of top notch reggae acts, such as Judy Mowatt, Junior Tucker, Chevelle Franklin, Lieutenant Stitchie and Papa San.
“Many of these singers had accepted Christ as their Lord and Savior not long after I declared my life to him, so Gospel Train became a platform for us to spread the word,”she says. “Today it’s encouraging to see other young, up-and-coming singers see the opportunities to use the Gospel platform to spread the good news and earn a living.”
Since the year 2000 they’ve transitioned Gospel Train into Fun In The Son and stage the concerts every two years instead.
Davis is especially heartened by the response she received during her Jamaican cross-country school tour, which took her to 20-something schools in 10 parishes to perform for more than 5000 students and staff.
The tour, done in collaboration with the Jamaican Inter-School Christian Fellowship, assisted in boosting an initiative to train young people to be peer evangelists.
She is also excited about the recent release of “Assignment, her 17-track album, which she says was compiled and produced over the past three or four years.
“Also, we’re hoping to reach the youth with the remix of the album with more roots rock reggae rhythms. What we’re saying to them is that music is not immoral, it’s the message that makes the difference.”
“Assignment” is a Glory Music Production and is distributed by VP Records is available on all on-line platforms, including Spotify, Tidal, Vpal Music, Amazon, Itunes and Apple Music.
Carlene Davis comes to Montreal on Saturday, April 13, for a fundraiser for the Chomedey Baptist Church. She’ll be performing at Evangel Pentecostal Church, 1235 Lambert Closse St., in Montreal. Also on stage will be Shining Light, The Fitz-Patrick sisters, Zina Edwards and Guerschon Auguste among others. Tickets are $30 in advance and $35 at the door. Info.: 450-681-4643, 514-617-7117, 514-913-6269