Roy Gabriel, the Sixties balladeer who made the hit song, Please Release Me, his signature tune back then when local stage shows were at their peak, died last week at his home in Cape Town, aged 75.
He will be buried this weekend.
His son, Conroy Gabriel, said his father died suddenly while socialising at home with friends.
“There was no sign of anything being wrong, outwardly my father was in good health,” Conroy said.
Roy’s death brings to a close the top three male singers who reigned supreme in the popular Mr Entertainment contests held in the greater Cape Town area in the Sixties. The winner was either Roy Gabriel, or Zayn Adam or Taliep Petersen.
Whether it was in the Woodstock Town Hall, the Kismet Cinema, Luxurama, or the Elsies River Civic Centre, those three had the young women screaming in the aisles . . . Zayn with Matt Munro’s Born Free; Taliep with Il Mondo (In My World) and Roy belting that sad love song made famous by British singer Engelbert Humperdinck (real name Gerry Dorsey).
For some, Please Release Me was the be all and end all of Roy Gabriel, that’s how they will remember him. Conroy however, was emphatic that there was much more to his father as an entertainer than just one song.
“Sure, people knew him for that song,” Conroy said,” but there is a whole lot more to my father’s career – a whole lot more. There many things people don’t know about my father.”
For starters, he said, as much as people know him as Roy Gabriels, the family name is actually Gabriel. I must confess, I first came across Roy in 1967 and I wrote about him regularly over the years. Yet, not once did he ask me to correct the spelling.
But that was the nature of the man. I found him to be soft-spoken, affable and very approachable. Yet, unlike some of his contemporaries, like Zayn, Taliep, Chico Levy, Dave Bestman, Leslie Klainsmith, Victor Sampson who all were regular visitors in the newspaper’s office, Roy never once dropped in.
Maybe it was the country-boy upbringing that was responsible for the reticence to sell his worth. The Gabriel family is originally from Worcester. Many of the family still live there.
Roy started his singing career as a teen in Worcester but he knew if he wanted to make headway as an entertainer, he would have to broaden his horizons and head to the city.
“My father auditioned for Fred Langford’s Golden City Dixies,” Conroy said. “He had to go to the Athlone Hotel where he sang for pianist Sammy Hartman to see whether he could be part of their stage shows.”
Roy performed with the Dixies and also was a much-sought after solo performer for the many promoters like Hamza Mukkadam and Jay Jay Abduraghman who staged the variety shows across the Peninsula and the nearby country towns.
In the late Sixties, the top-selling newspaper at the time, The Cape Post, ran hugely successful talent contests that invariably packed out big venues like the Luxurama, Woodstock Town Hall and Kismet.
Some would say it launched the careers of Zayn and Taliep because of the huge amount of publicity they received as winners.
Yet Roy also won the title as Mr Entertainment 1968. It never brought him the same success as Zayn and Taliep.
“That is because my father never chased the limelight aggressively,” Conroy said. “He made a conscious decision that he would secure his future and make sure his family was taken care of.
“Even with the limelight and glory of being a top entertainer, it was never a well paid profession back then. My father was smart enough to see that, and he took up a trade as a panel beater. That was always his day job. It was a secure financial future for us.”
Conroy said that his father continued performing on and off wherever he could accommodate it without weakening his commitment to family.
“He performed for a while in the big musicals with Frankie Cord (Rosario of the Big Beats) and the odd gig on request.”
Sophia Foster, a contemporary of Roy’s during his days in the Dixies, remembers him with great fondness: “Roy was always so polite and respectful of others. A beautiful voice . . . Engelbert eat your heart out. Most of all I remember a soft-spoken soul and always the perfect gentleman. RIP brother.”
For myself, my abiding memories of Roy will be of a singer – always immaculately dressed – working his way through Please Release Me on the stage at the Luxurama with females screaming behind me. He was good, very good.
The material on this blog is copyright. Obtain permission before using any part of it.