1994 will be noted for many things in Reggae music, but certainly one event that will leave its mark on the genre is the arrival of Morgan Heritage. Known specifically because of the past accomplishments of the group's founding father, Denroy Morgan, Morgan Heritage is proving that it is a group with an identity all its own.

In 1994, the band finds itself in the enviable position of releasing its debut album, Miracle, on a major label. With its highly accessible R&B flavor, the record already has the look of a Grammy nominee.

However, it hasn't been an overnight success for Morgan Heritage. The eight member team has been honing and refining its skills under its father's tutelage since 1979 when the group was seminally formed.

At that time, Jamaican singer Denroy Morgan and his band the Black Eagles were headed towards the height of their accomplishments, which was marked by the chart success of the album and song "I'll Do Anything For You." After the early 80's, Morgan faded from the Reggae mainstream, and many wondered what he's been doing since. The answer is Morgan Heritage. According to 19-year-old lead singer/guitarist Peter Morgan, Denroy's focus shifted from that of his own career to the interests of his children in the past ten years.

The crucial breakthrough for Morgan Heritage came in 1992 at Jamaica's Reggae Sunsplash when Miracle executive producer Lee Jaffe saw the group perform at the opening night Beach Party. Jaffe arranged for the band to open the International Night so that other MCA officials could see the group in action. The resulting performance (captured on Sunsplash '92 album) was impressive enough for the band to be signed on the spot.

Peter Morgan remembers the trip: "Our main focus was to go down there and learn about the roots production of the music and work with some of the top producers like Sly Dunbar, Steven Stewart and Bobby O'Hare. Our main goal was to go down and do a couple of shows and work with these guys in the studio and learn what it's all about from the masters."

With a record deal under its belt, Morgan Heritage returned to the U.S. to record songs for what would eventually become the Miracle album. "We were in a writing process for about six months. They brought in different songwriters like Nona Hendryx and Gary Benson, who wrote "Close To You" for Maxi Priest. We also wrote with Eric Mercury, Bob Thiele and Phil Roy. We submitted 75 to 100 songs to choose our album from.

"It took a year to get the album done. We finished it last year in August. I really love it very much. It was great work that we put into it." Peter says the goal in recording Miracle was "to put the same energy that we project onstage in to the record and let it have the same feel."

The album theme and title track, Miracle, evolved from a conversation the group had before brother Roy Morgan's child was born. According to Peter, "(Co-writer) Phil Roy liked the conversation and the concept and said let's write a song about that."

A debate will likely develop over whether Morgan Heritage's sound can be called R&B with a Reggae flavor or Reggae with an R&B flavor, but Peter Morgan says its definitely the latter. "We're born here in America, we know the culture, and our parents are from the island of Jamaica. We were raised like Jamaicans, so both the cultures are in us naturally, but we are a Reggae group with R&B overtones. We play R&B also, but our foundation, our base, is Reggae music."

Whatever you call it, the band's seeming potential for commercial success is rooted in the R&B element, which, while it may increase appeal to an African-american audience, is not intended to do so. "They (African-americans) don't really want to accept the straightforward roots, but we're not all about just getting across to African-americans, cause were more than just one set of people. African-americans aren't the only set of people living on Earth. We want our music to appeal to everyone who even has the feel or the joy to listen to music."

In concert, Morgan Heritage shows its Reggae chops in full force, performing its father's fundamentalist Rastafarian song "Roots Of The Ghetto." According to Peter Morgan, "you will get more (straight roots) from Morgan Heritage onstage."

Currently the band is touring with father Denroy, who comes out to perform a few of his old numbers with his children, including "I'll Do Anything" and "Africa Is Calling."

"He's on the whole tour. It's Morgan Heritage on the road, but we're not just advertising Morgan Heritage," says Peter. "We're letting the people know about the whole entire family. We consider ourselves the 'Royal Family of Reggae Music.' Inner Circle are the 'Bad Boys of Reggae' and Third world call themselves the 'Reggae Ambassadors,' so we call ourselves the 'Royal Family of Reggae Music.' We have our father, we have the children, we have different generations onstage delivering the same message. We want to let the world know that we are the Royal Family of Reggae music, and we are here to give them what they are missing."

The essence of Morgan Heritage's tight sound and strong family ties is rooted in a deep faith in Jah Rastafari. "In 1975, our father went through a spiritual conversion in finding his true faith and true belief which is the Most High," Morgan explains. "We were raised upon the whole theory of it. The whole belief in the Rastafarian lifestyle, the culture, we were raised on that. That's what we came to know is the truth in this time.

"Not everyone knows and understands about Rastafarians, but Rastafarians know and understand about everyone else. Such as it was when Christ was here. Not everyone knew about the Christians, but the Christians knew about everyone else. So it's just the same thing being repeated in modern times, and we are a part of that belief and that faith. We don't really say it's a religion, because there's many different religions, but it's all one God that they're serving. It's not really a religion, it's a faith, it's a living, and a belief that we hold onto, because it's the truth and the world will see that in due time."

Morgan Heritage's current plans include continued touring in support of Miracle and continued work on family projects which include a family gospel album, an album for Denroy, and projects for the family's next musical generation, the Dreads and the Gremlins.

In all likelihood, we have only heard the very beginning of this musical family.

Copyright 1994 Carter Van Pelt

Originally published in Reggae Report.