Ernest was born on 19 June 1932, in the rural parish of Robins Hall, Manchester, Jamaica. He had two uncles who played guitar and ukulele. During his formative years he would pick up their instruments and try to imitate their playing. As an aside, Ernest maintained the family tradition when he inspired his nephew, Gary Crosby into a musical career. It was Gary who formed the celebrated Jazz Jamaica combo that over the years has featured a veritable who's who of Reggae and Jazz musicians, including Ernest in the line-up. In addition to being influenced by his uncles, Ernest admired the works of Charlie Christian and Django Reinhardt as well as Cecil Hawkins, an unrecorded local guitarist. When he was a teenager he joined his first group, the Val Bennett band. He later joined forces with artists such as Eric Deans, George Moxy, Joe Harriot and Count Boyzie.
By the fifties, the budding maestro had developed into a proficient Jazz guitarist, and additionally mastered the Hawaiian guitar. He is even rumoured to have recorded Hawaiian sounds on wax cylinders before the arrival of Stanley Motta's 78s. Another first.
Around 1959, he joined bass player Cluett Johnson as part of Clue J And His Blues Blasters. At the same time as being with the group he recorded several instrumentals for Clement 'Coxson' Dodd at the Jamaican Broadcasting Corporation studios. When working at JBC he became the musical director for Ken Khouri's Federal Records, which led to further sessions with Coxsone as well as Prince Buster. His first solo recording, 'Shuffling Jug', is widely regarded as one of the first Ska records, although such claims are always contentious.
Ernest's beautiful, versatile guitar playing ensured that he was in demand as a session musician throughout the Ska era. As mentioned earlier it was around this time that he arranged the Wailers first hit, 'It Hurts To Be Alone'. This led to his other famous first when he was enrolled as the musical director for Millie Small's international hit, 'My Boy Lollipop' and rarely for the time credited as such. During the sixties he recorded a series of highly acclaimed Jazz albums namely, 'Wranglin', 'Guitar In Ernest' and 'Reflections' at the same time as maintaining a Ska and rock steady connection. Duke Reid employed Ernest the as musical director at Treasure Isle's recording studio in Bond Street, where he worked for several years.
From the late sixties and all through the seventies he was in demand as a studio musician and arranger for many of the island's top producers, including rising stars such as Lee Perry and Clancy Eccles. By 1973, his work finally caught the attention of the Jamaican government and he was awarded the Order Of Distinction for his contribution to music. He also continued to release solo albums and won critical acclaim for the releases of 'Ranglin Roots' and 'From Kingston JA To Miami USA'. Throughout the eighties and nineties the guitar legend spent most of his time on the live circuit, both locally and abroad.
The kudos kept coming and in 1992 he was recognised with a Musgrave medal. By 1996, Ernest and the acclaimed pianist, Monty Alexander were the first to have albums issued on Island's Jamaica Jazz label. Ernest's album, 'Below The Bassline' featured the guitar virtuoso covering Reggae classics such as, 'King Tubby Meets The Rockers Uptown', 'Congo Man' and 'Satta Massa Gana' in his own inimitable style. The success of the album led to the release of the enchanting 'In Search Of The Lost Riddim', which was the first release on the newly formed Palm Pictures label. He also recorded with Sly & Robbie, the union spawning 'Memories Of Barber Mack', which combined Jazz, Mento, Reggae and Blues. This album led to the equally styled 'E.B. @ Noon', which saw limited issue in 1999 before being re-titled as 'Ska Wey Dat' for Trojan, while 'Modern Answers to Old Problems' followed two years later.
His next collection, 'Grooving' saw issue early in 2001 Grooving, while the following year he received an Honorary Doctorate Degree from the University odf the West Indies for his outstanding contribution to the development of music in Jamaica. Since then, he has been the subject of a documentary ('Roots Of Reggae: The Ernest Ranglin Story') and been inducted into the Jamaican Music Hall of Fame by the Jamaica Association of Vintage Artistes and Affiliates.
Today, he continues to record and tour with great vigour, regularly demonstrating he has lost none of the dexterity that was first illustrated over seven decades ago.