Rex Jim Lawson popularly known as Cardinal Rex was born on March 4,1935 to a Kalabari father and an Igbo mother. He was the fourth child of his parents and the only one to survive.
At a young age, Lawson was afflicted with a severe case of small pox. His father fearing that he would die, lost interest in raising him. Lawson later sued his father for neglect while he was at school. He won the case, but he never had a good relationship with his father as a result.
The Cardinal of Highlife as Rex was fondly called, introduced highlife music into the Eastern Region of the country.
He started out by playing in his primary school band at Buguma, his hometown before goin on to join a band in Onitsha whenhe was 14. He was adviced to approach Lord Eddyson, who was then a leading musician by virtue of his being the leader of the Starlike Melody Orchestra, then based in Port Harcourt to ask if there were any positions open in music. Lord Eddyson reluctantly signed him on.
He soon moved to Lagos where he played and learned more about music practically under all the great highlife maestros of the time, the likes of Bobby Benson, Roy Chicago, Victor Olaiya, Tunde Amuwo, Chris Ajilo, Baby Face Paul Esamade.
At 23, he stood at the head of his own band “The Nigerphone Studio Orchestra”, moving back from Lagos back to Onitsha. The band metamorphosed into the "Mayor’s Dance Band of Nigeria". His greatest success came as the leader of the Mayors Dance Band, their recorded hits include “So ala teme”, “Yellow Sisi”, “Gowon Special”, and “Jolly Papa”.
Lawson acknowledged the fact that a good highlife musician must be as good in singing and composition as in playing the trumpet as the instrument was both the symbol of masculine authority and the very heartbeat of the highlife. His music had a distinctive quality that made it difficult to place him in any of the familiar highlife schools of those days. Orchestration was an important aspect of Rex’s music, but his hand excelled equally on account of the virtue of the individual members of the group. The saxophone was another distinguished instrument in Rex Lawson’s band. Although Rex played the trumpet, he found an alto saxophonist who was so good that he conceded the solo to him in many of his songs.
Religious sensibility manifested in many of his pieces and tended to form the bedrock of his message. 'Jem Bari Miema' which was sung incidentally some 18 months before Nigeria’s civil war broke out is a prayer to God that there be no more wars, while "Tom Kiri Site"which was one of his last songs, implores God to come down and rescue the world from sins. "Akwa Abasi", one of his Efik songs is an adaptation of the Lord’s prayer and in "Sobo ibibi nla", he alludes to the Biblical saying that a prophet is without honour in his home land. In appreciation of this trait in his music, he was awarded a clerical title.
He released over 30 songs and sang in different Nigerian languages as well as the languages of Ghana and Cameroon.His most popular hit is probably "Adure", which is still a sure floor-filler in Nigeria to this day.
The government of Rivers State in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria recently organized a musical concert in honor of the musical icon, Rex Jim Lawson The concert was tagged, Entertainment: Nigeria West Africa. A spokesman for the government said the concert was held to immortalize the musician and encourage other young artists to rise to greater heights.
Rex Lawson Personal Life
He was married to Chief (Mrs.) Regina Rex Lawson and they had two daughters. His wife died in 2008.
He met his untimely demise in an auto-accident on Agbor-warri road on January 18, 1971 on his way to a performance in Warri. The scene of the accident has since been renamed Rex Lawson corner.
Fellow musicians nicknamed him "Cardinal" alluding to the fact that he was the king of highlife.