Rex Jim Lawson (4 March 1935 – 18 January 1971), known as Cardinal Rex, was a singer, trumpeter and bandleader from Buguma, Nigeria. He became one of the best known highlife musicians of the 1960s in Africa when Cardinal and his band dominated Nigeria’s highlife scene.
Rex Lawson Biography
Rex Lawson was born on 4 March 1935 in Buguma, Nigeria to a Kalabari chieftain father and an Igbo mother from Owerri. He was given the name Erekeosima which translates to “do not name this one” due to his father’s belief that he would not live past infancy. He was the fourth child to his parents, the others having died of illnesses. At a young age, Lawson was afflicted with a severe case of small pox. While his mother brought him to various medicine men outside of Kalabari for treatment, his father feared he would die and lost interest in raising him. Lawson later sued his father for neglect while he was at school. He won the case, but his father cursed him in return, and the two did not communicate with one another until Lawson began his musical career.
Rex Lawson began his career in Port Harcourt as a bandboy for Lord Eddyson’s Starlight Melody Orchestra. He later played with Sammy Obot, Bobby Benson, Victor Olaiya, Chris Ajilo, and other Ghanaian and Nigerian musicians and bands. His greatest success came as the leader of the Majors Band (also called the Rivers Men in later years); their recorded hits include So ala teme, Yellow Sisi, Gowon Special, and Jolly Papa.
By 1965 Lawson had written more than 100 songs. In July 1970 he traveled to the United Kingdom, where from then until September he recorded an album, Rex Lawson in London.
Style and musical themes
A highly emotional and deep musician, Lawson was known to weep and shed tears while singing his own songs on stage, notably the haunting So ala teme. The late Sir Maliki Showman, the famous Nigerian tenor saxophonist who played with Rex Lawson, Bobby Benson and Victor Uwaifo, remembers Lawson as always placing music over money. Lawson is famed for his infectious gregariousness, his musical vision, talent, perseverance and individuality. He was able to sing in many different languages and dialects such as Kalabari, Nembe, Ijaw(Izon), Igbo, Urhobo, Ibibio, Efik and those of Cameroon and Ghana.
In most Highlife bands, the trumpet often played a leading role in the music that they played. Lawson broke from this trend by frequently featuring alto saxophone solos in his songs.
Lawson died on 18 January 1971 in a car accident at the Urhamigbe corner on the Asaba–Benin Road while on his way to Warri, Nigeria for a performance. He was 36 years old. After his death, his band continued as the Professional Seagulls. Lawson was married to Chief (Mrs.) Regina Rex Lawson who died in October 2008.