The English Beat and General Public’s ska pioneer Ranking Roger dead at 56

Ranking Roger with the English Beat in 1980. (Photo: Gie Knaeps/Getty Images)
Ranking Roger with the English Beat in 1980. (Photo: Gie Knaeps/Getty Images)

Ranking Roger, the British new wave/ska/reggae musician and vocalist known for his seminal work with ‘80s two-tone band the English Beat and later General Public, has passed away at age 56. Although no official cause of death has been confirmed as of this writing, in recent months he had battled a stroke, two brain tumors, and lung cancer.

“He fought & fought & fought, Roger was a fighter. Sadly Roger past away a few hours ago peacefully at his home surrounded by family. Roger’s family would like to thank everyone for their constant support during this tough time,” a message on the Beat’s Facebook page announced Tuesday.

Ranking Roger was born Roger Charlery on Feb. 21, 1963 in Birmingham, England, and he began his music career drumming for the Nam Nam Boys before forming a friendship with another second-wave ska band in the Birmingham scene, the English Beat (known just as the Beat in the U.K.). After hopping onstage with them at many local gigs, he eventually became their official toaster and the perfect foil to his Beat co-frontman, Dave Wakeling.

Roger’s effervescent, Jamaican-influenced vocals and dynamic stage persona easily set the Beat apart from other ska revivalists of the new wave era, and over the course of their three classic albums — 1980’s I Just Can’t Stop It, 1981’s Wha’ppen?, and 1982’s Special Beat Service — the band scored five top 10 U.K. hits, including “Mirror in the Bathroom” and a reggae remake of Smokey Robinson & the Miracles’ “Tears of a Clown”; their two biggest American singles were “Mirror in the Bathroom” and “I Confess,” which both cracked the U.S. dance chart’s top 40.

After the English Beat broke up in 1983, Roger and Wakeling joined forces with Horace Panter of the Specials and Dexys Midnight Runners’ Mickey Billingham and Andy “Stoker” Growcott to form General Public, who were more commercially successful in the States. General Public’s debut album, All the Rage, spent 39 weeks Billboard 200 and yielded the top 40 pop hit “Tenderness,” which was featured in Sixteen Candles, Weird Science, and Clueless.

General Public’s Ranking Roger and Dave Wakeling in 1984. (Photo: Paul Natkin/Getty Images)
General Public’s Ranking Roger and Dave Wakeling in 1984. (Photo: Paul Natkin/Getty Images)

Following the dissolution of General Public in 1987, Roger formed Special Beat with members of the Specials and collaborated with acts like Sting, Big Audio Dynamite, Smash Mouth, and Pato Banton. He also sporadically released solo albums, participated in occasional Beat and General Public reunions, and continued to front his own Wakeling-free European touring version of the Beat. Billed as “The Beat feat. Ranking Roger,” the group released Bounce, the first new album by the Beat in 30 years, in September 2016. Roger’s Beat lineup released another studio album, Public Confidential, this past January, and was reportedly working on new music at the time of his death.

In January 2019, Roger announced via a nine-minute personal YouTube post that he had undergone surgery for two brain tumors and was also receiving treatment for lung cancer. He maintained a tentatively hopeful outlook in the video, saying, “I know I can sing. I don’t have a problem with that. It’s just that I don’t think I’ll be running around the stage as much as I was, certainly for the first three months or six months, because I wouldn’t want a seizure onstage. … I know I can sing still. There’s not a problem with the voice. And I know I can skank still. I’ll never forget how to do that. But I just mustn’t get too excited and start darting across the stage again. But I think eventually I probably will be able to. We’ll just see how this treatment goes, that’s all I can say. But I’ve got a lot of optimism.”

It was announced earlier this year that Charlery had just finished his autobiography, I Just Can’t Stop It: My Life in the Beat; the book, co-authored by Daniel Rachel, is set to be published by Omnibus Press in June 2019.

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