By Shelah Moody
The following tribute is called “Nine Night for Tabby Diamond.” Tabby’s daughter, Josheina Shaw, asked me to give tribute to the lead singer of the Mighty Diamonds, my longtime friend and client, at his Celebration of Life tribute at Ranny Williams Event Center on May 20, 2022 in Kingston, JA.
On March 29, Donald Orlando “Tabby Diamond” Shaw, 67, was shot and killed outside his home in Kingston. At press time, Shaw’s killers have not been caught. In a cruel twist of fate, another member of the soulful reggae harmony trio known for hits such as “Shame and Pride,” “Pass the Kutchie ” and “I Need a Roof”— Fitzroy “Bunny Diamond” Simpson, died after a long illness on April 1. Simpson was 70. Lloyd “Judge” Ferguson, the remaining member of the Mighty Diamonds, wrote 95 percent of their songs and is the keeper of the group’s legacy.
*In the Caribbean, a nine night celebration is similar to a second line tribute in New Orleans. Loved ones of the deceased gather to pay tribute with food and drink, music and stories of the beloved.
My name is Rani Shelah Moody and I’m a journalist and music historian. For several years, I’ve worked for the Mighty Diamonds as a publicist and assistant.
I first met Tabby in the summer of 1995 when the Mighty Diamonds performed at the Sierra Nevada World Music Festival.
I saw Tabby sitting at a table by himself backstage. I called him over to the table where I was sitting with my friends and asked if I could interview him for Reggae Report magazine. Tabby called Bunny over and asked him to do the interview with the nice lady. Then, he pulled down his shades, put his feet up and listened while Bunny and I talked.
I told Tabby that I’d seen the Mighty Diamonds perform earlier that year at Slim’s nightclub in San Francisco, and I thought his voice was amazing!
“Yeah mon, give thanks, he said.
Tabby was so humble!
After the Sierra Nevada show, we all sat at the table talking and laughing well into the night.
Tabby had that it factor.
You know that scene in Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” video where he passes a homeless man on the street, tosses a coin in his cup and transforms his ragged clothes into a fine suit? Well, such was the magic of Tabby Diamond.
With his ebullient gap tooth smile and warm personality, Tabby could turn a gloomy day or an average day into an extraordinary day. Even Ziggy Marley looked at him and said “My heart is full” when I took the Mighty Diamonds to Tuff Gong studios in Los Angeles in 2019.
I met Tabby at one of the lowest points in my life. The year 1995 was a dark season for me. My grandmother died, then my dad died of a drug overdose. I was broke. Depressed. I
struggled with self worth.
Tabby’s recordings, live shows and personal words of encouragement lifted me up and gave me the strength and courage to trod on.
Tabby was kind. I remember telling Tabby that I felt alone in the world when my father died. Tabby told me that I was not alone because the father, God, was always with me.
Soon, the Mighty Diamonds became my favorite group. I bought all their music and went to all their shows and interviewed them whenever they came to town. I told everyone I knew about the magic and the soul of Tabby and the Mighty Diamonds.
I wrote about and reported on the Mighty Diamonds so much that the group soon asked me to be a part of their public relations team. In 2007, I went on tour with them for the first time to see what it was like.
That’s when I really got to know Tabby, Bunny and Judge. You can read about our adventures on my social media pages. We traveled in busses and vans that sometimes lost their air conditioning in the summer and their heat in winter. Once, I offered to do the band’s laundry on one of the stops in Texas. Imagine my shock when I discovered I’d accidentally thrown in a red shirt in the washer and turned all the clothing pink!
Tabby was a consummate professional.
I remember, one night in Seattle, Tabby came down with a bad cold. We knew something was wrong because he was very quiet, and coughing heavily. He had a fever. He was wrapped in a blanket in the back of the bus. I was worried about his health; it was snowing in Seattle and he seemed to have only a light jacket.
I told the tour manager; I think the lead singer is sick… maybe he shouldn’t go on stage. He can barely talk.
“Don’t worry about it,” the tour manager said. “Tabby will let us know if he’s too sick to perform.”
Sure enough, Tabby went on stage. He did not want to disappoint Bunny and Judge or his fans. Perhaps only I could tell he was not feeling well. Though his lungs were congested and his body ached; he sang through the pain. “Party Time.” “ Poor Marcus.” “ Have Mercy.”
Then, it was time for his signature song. “I Need A Roof.” I held onto my seat. Tabby reached for that one perfect note. You know it.
You know the high note that Phillip Bailey sings on the refrain of Earth Wind and Fire’s “Reasons?” That one crystal note Russell Thompkins Junior of the Stylistics sings on the chorus of “Betcha By Golly Wow?”
Tabby reached for the note, but his voice did not peak; it crescendo, then plateaued and then beautifully flowed into the next verse. I exhaled. I was awestruck! That’s when I knew Tabby was one of the most skilled voices in the industry. Perfection. Tabby knew what soul was all about. I dubbed him the master of melody.
More than anything, Tabby valued family and community. On the road; Tabby would tell stories about Fanny and children and grandchildren and the folks in his community in Kingston. At the end of each tour, he’d load up at Target and other stores with gifts to take home to his family. Once he had me help him look for a christening gown for his new granddaughter. Tabby loved to cook on the road and watch videos and smoke and laugh with his Jamaican and American brethren on the tour.
Tabby told me that one of his fondest memories growing up was eating sugar cane with his father in the moonlight,
On Feb. 1, to celebrate my birthday and the birthdays of vocalists Pam Hall and Rica Newell; I hired Tabby and Judge to sing at our virtual Zoom party. https://youtu.be/tlw8NOq-GtE
Tabby’s beloved daughter Josheina helped her father log on to the Zoom link. It was the best birthday ever. Tabby and Judge sang for us and told stories. The whole day, we were calling and texting each other saying how uplifted Tabby and Judge made us feel.
The Zoom was so successful that I had the idea to pay Tabby for private Zoom voice lessons. Wouldn’t that had been grand? The Mighty Diamonds had many projects in the works, including a new album and a gig with Ziggy Marley in the Dominican Republic.
Here’s the thing about losing our friends. We can only hope that when they leave us, we become better people because of the lessons they taught us. As the saying goes, Diamonds are forever. Tabby, I will miss you in this earthly realm, but your beautiful presence still lingers; it’s reflected in your music, your family and your community.
Donald Orlando, Tabby Diamond Shaw, OD, I will always lift you up!
Related links: Celebration of life for Fitzroy “Bunny Diamond” Simpson: https://youtu.be/lAU11FrxOvo