"Sounds of the Caribbean" host Rich Davis died in a private residence in Montego Bay, Jamaica, late Wednesday night, says funeral director Dale Delapenha.
As of Friday afternoon, cause of death has not been determined and an autopsy is pending for next week. Family members confirm Davis had a history of hypertension.
Davis, known on-air as "the man inside your radio," hosted WLRN's late-night music program, which was Miami's longest-running Caribbean show on FM. He was also a local host for BBC World News on WLRN.
"The entire WLRN family is deeply saddened by the unexpected and sudden passing of Rich Davis," says WLRN general manager John LaBonia. "Rich's energy and passion for his craft will live on in our collective memories."
"Sounds of the Caribbean" has a large following of reggae, calypso and dancehall music fans. Jamaican-American reggae host Howard Duperly of 88.9 WDNA says, "It was an excellent program. [Davis] tried to keep Jamaicans and Americans abreast of some of the more modern and contemporary releases while staying true to the traditional 'roots' music. It was a nice blend."
“He was not just playing the role of DJ... just playing music," says local singer/songwriter Novlette "Novel-T" Fellows. Fellows, who's working a full-time job while finishing her first album, says Davis wouldn't just play her music, he'd send personal notes of encouragement. "'Don’t give up,' 'It’s worth it,' 'Just keep going.' So that really meant a lot to me and I’ll never forget it.”
Davis recognized that his audience was the oft-forgotten segment of South Florida working graveyard shifts.
“The truck drivers, the guys who do the deliveries at the wee-hours of the morning," said Tanto Irie, who hosts "Reggae Runnins" from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. on HOT 105 FM. Irie would listen to Davis on his own late-night commute home. "I know he reaches the community that way.”
Davis was born in St. Elizabeth, Jamaica, and began his career on the island in 1991. According to his blog, he was a volunteer on Radio Waves, now called HOT 102 FM. There he learned from reputable broadcasters like Arnold Kelly. He approached his career with passion and described it as thrilling and satisfactory.
He was interested in radio since the early '80s, so after working in hospitality, law enforcement and corporate security management, Davis migrated to the U.S. to focus full-time on broadcasting. In 2007, he graduated from the Connecticut School of Broadcasting.
In South Florida, he joined the team at WAVS 1170 AM, the Heartbeat of the Caribbean, in 2006 and later produced "The Rich Davis Show" at WLVJ 1040 AM. In southwest Florida he produced and hosted Caribbean Sundays on WKII 1070 AM.
Long-time fans of "Sounds of the Caribbean" had fallen in love with the show's original host, Clint O'Neil. After his departure, many, like Jamaican-born attorney Lorna Owens, worried the show would never be as good.
And then she heard Rich Davis.
“The first thing that struck me was how polished his voice was," says Owens who also runs her own non-profit. "And so I was drawn to that because I felt it represented our community well.”
In 2011, Davis was named the Best FM Radio Personality by the Broward/Palm Beach New Times.
"Rich was one of those truly South Florida kinds of characters," says Tim Elfrink, managing editor at the New Times. "It’s the kind of show that you would hope to find on the air if you were driving down the highway late at night in South Florida. It was exactly who you wanted to hear.”
Davis kept his audience company just as they kept him company. Devout fans knew to send Facebook messages to Davis throughout the night. "You know, because he didn’t have any staff there to handle calls,” said attorney Marlon Hill, who says Davis was the perfect companion "coming home from a late-night gathering or a party at 3 a.m. or 4 a.m., which happens frequently in the Jamaican and Caribbean Community."
Davis celebrated his seventh anniversary with "Sounds of the Caribbean" early this month.
This was his personal credo, which fueled his ambitions in life: "The heights by great men reached and kept, were not attained by sudden flight, but they, while their companions slept, were toiling upward in the night." -- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Davis is survived by his partner Mexine Bisasor and their 4-year-old son D'Alexander Davis, his mother Pauline Daley, and siblings Andrew Bagaloo and Kimberly Pinnock.
Daley plans to bury her son in St. Elizabeth, Jamaica, when an autopsy is completed. She will hold a memorial service in Miami Gardens at 4 p.m. Sunday, May 4, at Maranatha Seventh-Day Adventist Church, 18900 NW 32nd Ave.
Tim Padgett's reporting contributed to this post.