Humans of the U: Robert Nelson

“I moved here from Montana in the mid-1980s to attend the U. As a student, I got a job in the library while finishing degrees in history and Arabic. I’ve always been a music collector and fan since I was a little kid. I remember going with my mom to Woolworths and buying my first record—the Doobie Brothers “Greatest Hits.”

When I moved here, there wasn’t really a lot going on in Utah musically. I discovered community radio—KRCL—and out of all the programs they had my favorite was the Saturday afternoon reggae show, Smile Jamaica. When the host retired, I took it over. Thirty years later, here we are!

I did a home remodel two years ago to fit all my records, books, CDs, DVDs—everything that I was archiving on Jamaican music. I bet I have a collection that is among the top 10 in the country. I probably have 10,000 records, probably that many CDs and another 10,000 45s.

Everybody loves Bob Marley. Others that I like are an artist named Burning Spear and a favorite group is Black Uhuru. Uhuru means freedom in Swahili. Steel Pulse is another group I really like.

What I love about reggae music is it’s the sound of the downtrodden. It’s their stories. I’m a big story guy. This is the story of African people who are ripped from Africa, taken to Jamaica and forced to be sugar cane harvesters. When slavery ended, they stayed and embraced this religion called Rastafari.

Reggae is really an amazing form of gospel music and I love its uplifting message about humanity, how people can come together. It’s made by people coming from humble, impoverished circumstances singing this beautiful music.”

— Robert Nelson, head of Media Studios at the Marriott Library and host of Smile Jamaica on KRCL, 90.9 FM, and the Smile Jamaica podcast on Mixcloud

We’ll be featuring Humans of the U and sharing their stories throughout the year with the university community. If you know someone with a compelling story, let us know at ThisWeek@utah.edu.