Cherry Green remains one of the most fascinating footnotes in reggae history -- an original member of the Wailers, the group that later evolved into Bob Marley's backing unit, she joined with fellow vocalist Beverly Kelso to contribute the haunting falsetto harmonies that galvanized their first hit, "Simmer Down." Born Ermine Ortense Bramwell in the impoverished Kingston district known as Trenchtown on August 22, 1943, she was given her nickname thanks to her light complexion, dubbed "red" in Jamaican parlance. Her half-brother Carlton's surname was Green, and as she later told an interviewer, everyone assumed the name was hers as well. By age 18 Green began harmonizing with other Trenchtown youths under the tutelage of musician Joe Higgs, who with vocal partner Roy Wilson cut a series of pioneering reggae singles for producer Clement "Coxsone" Dodd during the early '60s. Higgs was instrumental in bringing together the Teenagers, the first incarnation of the Marley-led group that soon became the Wailers. Besides Marley, Green, and Kelso, the original Wailers lineup also included Marley's stepbrother Neville "Bunny" Livingston, Junior Braithwaite, and Peter McIntosh (the future Peter Tosh).
In late 1963, the group successfully auditioned for Dodd at Studio One and soon after cut its debut single, "Simmer Down," an impassioned plea to the so-called rude boys of the Kingston ghettos to curb the crime and violence wreaking havoc throughout the city. The single topped the Jamaican charts in February 1964, but Green -- by this time a single mother raising a young daughter -- found it increasingly difficult to balance her domestic obligations with the Wailers' accelerating career pace, and as a result she appears on less than a dozen of their earliest efforts, including the hits "Lonesome Feelings" and "There She Goes" as well as a ska cover of the Tom Jones pop smash "What's New, Pussycat?" Around the time Marley briefly relocated to the U.S. in late 1966, Green left the Wailers for good, and three years later she relocated to Miami, where she went to work as a nurse. Following Marley's 1976 performance at the Santa Monica Civic Center, Green (by this time a Southern California resident) visited with the now-iconic singer backstage -- however, her contributions to the Marley legacy have gone largely unnoticed, perhaps due to some lingering confusion over the extent of her involvement in the Wailers' formative recordings. (Further complicating the issue, some sources have referred to her as "Cherry Smith," for reasons that are unclear.) After retiring from nursing, Green settled in West Palm Beach, FL -- she died there of a heart attack on September 24, 2008.