On January 15, 1980, Pulse Ltd was registered in Jamaica. The founders of the company, Kingsley Cooper and Hilary Phillips, were way ahead of their time. These enterprising attorneys intuitively knew that the creative industries were big business and would become a major player in the Jamaican economy. And long before entertainment law was established as a respectable legal practice in Jamaica, Hilary and Kingsley recognised the potential of this specialist field.
Kingsley’s talent for entrepreneurship was evident from quite early. As children, growing up in the Seventh-Day Adventist Church, we were introduced to the capitalist principle of investing for profit. Each year, all church members, both children and adults, were given a small amount of money which we were supposed to invest in some productive enterprise. The principal and profit were turned over to the church.
One year, long after the official investment programme had ended, Kingsley was still engaged in selling. I asked him how come he was still at it. I was quite happy to take a rest from my investment project, with a clear conscience. I had done my bit for the church.
Kingsley breezily told me that he had invested for the Lord and he was now investing for himself. He couldn’t have been much more than about 12 at the time. He had learned his lesson well: God helps those who help themselves.
As a law student at the Cave Hill campus of The University of the West Indies from 1971-1973, Kingsley launched ‘The Sound of Loving’ disco, which played at numerous parties. On his return to Jamaica in 1973, the disco became ‘Soul Construction’. Kingsley promoted big dances in East Kingston, where we lived, and all around town.
Music has the power to level political barriers. Kingsley remembers being ‘called’ to play at Miss Cherry’s Bar, a hotspot in Trench Town, at the roundabout next to the big water tank. This was PNP territory. Soon after, he was ‘called’ to play on North Street, a JLP stronghold. Kingsley did not dare to refuse to answer these calls.
In the 1980s, Kingsley extended his work in the music business. Pulse promoted music events, bringing international acts to Jamaica such as Chaka Khan, the Commodores and Run DMC.
The Commodores show in 1982 was a near-disaster. Because of the extraordinary success of Lionel Richie that year, Pulse advertised the concert as LIONEL RICHIE and the Commodores. Richie’s Endless Love duet with Diana Ross was a huge hit. And Kenny Rogers’ Lady, which Richie had written, was riding high on the charts.
The day before the show, Bennie Ashburn, the Commodores’ manager, called Kingsley at home. Our sister, Donnette, was the unfortunate one to answer the phone. Lionel Richie was allegedly sick and would not be coming to Jamaica. Donnette didn’t know how to tell Kingsley who was at the venue, the National Arena. But she bit the bullet.
Ashburn asked Kingsley if the group should still come. Kingsley decided that the show must go on without Richie. Too much had been invested. Pulse held a press conference at the airport as soon as the Commodores arrived. Asburn assured ticketholders that the show would be just as good without Richie.
He didn’t know Jamaican patrons: “A Lionel Richie mi pay mi money fi hear. Not nuh so-so Commodores.”
Pulse refunded many tickets. But they sold far more that day. The show was a spectacular success.
AMONG THE BEST IN THE WORLD
In 1982, Pulse also staged the first Reggae Superjam concert. That concert series would become known across the Caribbean for its high production quality. It showcased three acts for each of the three nights. Peter Tosh’s magisterial performance in 1983 was, for me, the highlight of the series. It inspired the founding of the Peter Tosh Museum, 33 years later, a collaboration between Pulse, the Peter Tosh Estate and Marlene Brown, Tosh’s companion.
The Pulse Model Agency was also launched in 1982 and the Jamaica Fashion Model competition followed in 1983. Then, in 1989, Pulse was invited to host the Jamaica preliminary to the Miss Universe Contest. For almost two decades, Pulse put on the local event, producing four top 10 finalists at the international pageant – Sandra Foster, Kimberley Mais, Nicole Haughton and Christine Straw.
In 2001, Pulse introduced the widely acclaimed Caribbean Fashionweek, which has been described by British Vogue as one of the important new trends in world fashion.
Pulse pioneered and defined an international modelling industry for Jamaica and the Caribbean. Pulse models are among the best in the world. To name just a few: Lisa Hanna, Nadine Willis, Lois Samuels, Jaunel McKenzie, Kimberley Mais, Jeneil Williams, Sedene Blake, Alicia Burke, Gaye McDonald and Oraine Barrett.
According to Kingsley, “Pulse started life as an idea – that Caribbean talent could compete effectively with the best in the world.” It’s a vision shared by co-founder Hilary Phillips, a distinguished jurist with an international reputation.
With $2,000 in capital, Pulse began operations in Kingsley’s tiny law office in Norman Gardens. Pulse has flourished to become the first entertainment company to be listed on the Jamaica Stock Exchange. Last week, Pulse’s stock traded at $7.50. With 1.63 billion stock units in issue, the value of the company is $12.2 billion.
Not bad for a creative industries company in Jamaica!
This article was written by: Carolyn Cooper.
Carolyn Cooper, PhD, is a specialist on culture and development.