ARIA Award winner Seaman Dan passes away at 92
Torres Strait Islander musician Henry Gibson Dan AM – or Seaman Dan’ – died in his sleep at his home on December 30 in Edmonton, Cairns.
The double ARIA Award winner was 92 and had been recognised many times for his raising the profile of First Nations music.
Dan was born on Thursday Island in 1929, the great grandson of a Jamaican sailor, and grandson of a chief’s daughter from New Caledonia and man from the island of Niue in Polynesia.
Between the 1940s and 1960s, he was a deep sea pearl diver and skipper of a boat.
His music fused islander blues, pearling songs, hula and summer jazz, and in the mid-90s, the Mills Sisters made a hit of his 1983 song ‘TI Blues’.
In 1999, Central Queensland University academic and musician Dr Karl Neuenfeldt who was doing a study on Torres Strait music discovered him performing in hotels and put him in the studio.
Seaman Dan was ARIA’s oldest award winner at 75 when Perfect Pearl took out Best World Music Release in 2004, and again with Sailing Home in 2009 when he was 80.
In 2016 An Old Man Of The Sea was an ARIA finalist.
He received the Australian Council’s Red Ochre Award in 2005 for his contribution to First Nations music, and was inducted into the Hall of Fame at the National Indigenous Music Awards in Darwin in 2013.
At the 2019 Queensland Music Awards in Brisbane he was bestowed the Grant McLennan Lifetime Achievement Award.
In 2020, he was lauded with a Member of the Order of Australia medal for contribution to the arts.
Aside from helping to open up mainstream Australia to TSI music, he also became a role model for emerging First Nations musicians for his pride of heritage, stories, love of nature, a positive attitude to life and an ever-ready smile.
Much in demand at festivals around the country, Seaman Dan also toured Japan and Hawaii.
In 2014 he issued Caribbean Songbook as a tribute to his great grandfather.
At the age of 85, he semi-retired, living a laid-back life in a house with no telephone.
His youngest daughter, who confirmed his death on Facebook said: “My father will always be my hero, for he turned a bad situation into good.”