Dubbed "the man with the golden throat" by Herbie Hancock, Jon Lucien was the premier crooner of the fusion era -- blessed with a deep, velvety voice ideally matched to romantic ballads, his sophisticated amalgam of soul, light jazz, and Caribbean rhythms never enjoyed commercial success commensurate with the esteem afforded him by critics and peers alike. Born Lucien Harrigan on Tortola in the British Virgin Islands on January 8, 1942, he grew up on the neighboring island of St. Thomas. An ardent fan of Nat King Cole, as a teen he played bass in Rico and the Rhythmaires, a group led by his father, Eric. In the mid-'60s he relocated to upstate New York, recording commercial jingles and performing at parties, weddings, and bar mitzvahs. At one such gig he captured the attention of RCA exec Ernie Alshulter, and the label soon extended a contract offer. Renaming himself Jon Lucien, the singer was also a gifted songwriter, but RCA limited his contributions to his 1970 debut, I Am Now. to just one original, instead insisting he record a series of jazz and pop standards: "The record company was attempting to package me as a sort of 'black Sinatra,'" Lucien recalled decades later. "Once the white women started to swoon at my performances, their attitudes quickly changed." Three years in the making, the follow-up, Rashida, consisted solely of Lucien originals. Both the title cut and the bossa nova-inspired single "Lady Love" found some favor with U.S. radio, and the record also earned rapturous critical notice, even earning arranger Dave Grusin a Grammy nomination.
While 1974's Mind's Eye seemed to position Lucien on the cusp of a commercial breakthrough, a move to Columbia for the follow-up, Song for My Lady, conspired to upset his momentum, and in the wake of 1976's Premonition the label terminated his contract. Lucien resurfaced later that year on jazz-rock bassist Alphonso Johnson's Yesterday's Dreams, and in 1978 he also guested on fusion supergroup Weather Report's Mr. Gone. Only in 1982 did he resume his solo career with the Precision label release Romantico. "My frustration stemmed from being asked to be a hit-maker...do disco, country...whatever it takes to sell millions," he later said. "I struggled for the executives to understand my music." Lucien also suffered personal tragedy in 1980 when his young daughter Zeudi Jacira drowned. He spent much of the decade to follow battling drug addiction, and during the mid-'80s returned to the Virgin Islands, ultimately settling in Puerto Rico. With his 1991 comeback album Listen Love he found a home on quiet storm radio playlists. 1993's Mother Nature's Son was also well received at contemporary jazz outlets, but he faced another crushing blow in 1996 when daughter Dalila was killed aboard TWA flight 800, which crashed off the coast of Long Island. (The 1997 album Endless Is Love is dedicated to her memory.) In subsequent years Lucien put aside his differences with the recording industry once and for all by founding his own label, Sugar Apple Music. Health problems plagued him, however, and he died of respiratory failure in Orlando, FL, on August 18, 2007. ~ Jason Ankeny
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