Cardinal Rex Jim Lawson Biography

In this article we will talk about Rex Lawson Biography, Early Life, Career, Music and Death Of the musical icon.

Rex Jim Lawson whose full name was Erekeosima Lawson, was born on March 4, 1938 in Buguma, Rivers State. He was also known as Pastor Rex Lawson or Cardinal Rex Lawson, and was a renowned singer, trumpeter, and bandleader from Nigeria. Lawson was one of the best-known highlife musicians of the 1960s in Africa, and he and his band dominated Nigeria’s highlife scene during this period. His genre was primarily highlife, a genre of music that originated in West Africa and blends traditional rhythms with Western instruments and styles.

Tragically, Lawson’s life was cut short when he died on January 18, 1971 in a car accident along the Asaba-Benin Road in Nigeria. Despite his untimely death, Lawson’s music continues to be celebrated and admired by fans of highlife and African music around the world.


Rex Lawson, born in 1938 in Buguma, Nigeria, was the son of a Kalabari chieftain father and an Igbo mother from Owerri. Unfortunately, his birth was met with skepticism from his father, who gave him the name Erekeosima, meaning “do not name this one”, due to his belief that his son would not live past infancy.

To make matters worse, Lawson was the fourth child of his parents, with the previous three having died from various illnesses.

At a young age, Lawson was struck by a severe case of smallpox. Despite his mother’s efforts to seek treatment from medicine men outside of Kalabari, his father lost hope in his son’s survival and became disinterested in raising him.

Lawson later took legal action against his father for neglect while he was attending school. He eventually won the case, but his father cursed him in return. The two did not communicate with each other until Lawson embarked on his musical career.


Rex Lawson began his music career in Port Harcourt as a bandboy for Lord Eddyson’s Starlight Melody Orchestra. He later went on to play with several renowned Ghanaian and Nigerian musicians and bands, including Sammy Obot, Bobby Benson, Victor Olaiya, and Chris Ajilo.

However, his greatest success came as the leader of the Majors Band, which was later known as the Rivers Men. Some of their most popular hits included “So ala teme”, “Yellow Sisi”, “Gowon Special”, and “Jolly Papa”.

Lawson’s talent as a songwriter was equally impressive, having written over 100 songs by 1965. In July 1970, he traveled to the United Kingdom, where he recorded his album, Rex Lawson in London, over the next few months until September. This album showcased his incredible talent and cemented his reputation as one of Africa’s most influential and celebrated highlife musicians.


Rex Lawson’s style of music was characterized by a deep emotional intensity that often moved him to tears on stage, particularly during his haunting song “So ala teme”. Despite his immense talent and success, Lawson was known for placing music above financial gain, a fact remembered by his colleague, the Nigerian tenor saxophonist Sir Maliki Showman, who also played with Bobby Benson and Victor Uwaifo.

Lawson’s musical prowess was further amplified by his versatility, as he was able to sing in many different languages and dialects including Kalabari, Nembe, Ijaw(Izon), Igbo, Urhobo, Ibibio, Efik, as well as those from Cameroon and Ghana.

In contrast to the typical highlife bands that featured trumpets as the leading instrument, Lawson often broke from tradition by showcasing the alto saxophone solos in his songs. His infectious gregariousness, musical vision, perseverance, and individuality continue to be celebrated by fans of highlife and African music worldwide.


Tragically, Rex Lawson’s life was cut short on January 18, 1971, at the young age of 32, when he died in a car accident on the Asaba-Benin Road at the Urhamigbe corner while en route to a performance in Warri, Nigeria.

Following his passing, his band, the Majors Band, continued performing under the name the Professional Seagulls. Lawson was survived by his wife, Chief (Mrs.) Regina Rex Lawson, who passed away in October 2008. Despite his untimely death, Lawson’s music has continued to live on and inspire generations of musicians in Africa and beyond.

Details of How Rex Lawson Died

Chief Lloyd Jim Lawson, who is in his 70s and the younger brother of Rex, who was with him during the events leading up to his death, recounted the details of that tragic day. According to him, the contract for Rex’s Warri performance was signed on Friday, which coincided with the day the Rivers State government promised to provide him with a vehicle. However, they waited all day for the bus, but it did not arrive. Since Saturday was also a work day in those days, Rex decided to wait again, but by 4pm, it was clear that the bus was not coming. Therefore, he opted to charter a vehicle to take him to Warri for his performance.

Chief Lawson vividly recalled that on that Saturday evening when Rex was loading his bags into the vehicle, he felt an unusual sense of loneliness, which was strange because he had never felt that way before. It was like a premonition, he said. He usually accompanied Rex on his trips, but on that day, due to some exigencies, he could not. One thing he always did during their trips was to ensure that no one drank, especially the drivers, because the roads were not very good. However, since he was not with Rex, he learned that the driver had consumed a considerable amount of alcohol while they stopped to eat at Boji Boji Agbor.

Chief Lawson explained that in those days, there were no wide highways, only huge trees on both sides of the road. When they resumed their journey after eating, the intoxicated driver crashed into a tree. He hit the tree on the side where Rex was sitting, and the shattered windscreen shade went straight into his head, resulting in his death. Rex was 33 years old at the time, and it was a very sad day for everyone.

According to Chief Lawson, Rex’s body was taken to the Eku Hospital in Warri, where he was pronounced dead on arrival. The next day, the body was brought back to Port Harcourt by the Alfred Diete-Spiff administration. The news of Rex’s death caused the entire community to mourn deeply.

On the morning after Rex’s death, at about 5am, the radio station was still playing his music when the military administrator, Alfred Diete-Spiff, arrived in Buguma with the army to break the news to them. Chief Lawson received them on that sad occasion. Rex’s former drummer, Harry, also recounted the scene where the accident occurred.

Upon joining Third Marine Commando, I was stationed near Agbor after leaving the band. It was near Umunede, at the Umutu area, where the accident that took Rex’s life occurred. I was among the patrol team that arrived first at the scene. Three people were in the Volkswagen, but unfortunately, Rex was the only one who didn’t survive. The vehicle had somersaulted, and the splinter that caused his death was no more than two inches, but it had lodged in his head.

Traditionally, the bodies of Buguma natives are buried in a massive expanse across the river. However, the military authorities at the time insisted that Rex should be buried in his hometown. They even suggested that the body should be interred in the town square, but the community objected, citing that it was not customary. After much deliberation, a compromise was eventually reached, and a final resting place was chosen in a prominent part of the community. Today, a bronze statue of Rex holding his trademark trumpet stands on the site of his original resting place.



Albums Include’s

  • Abari Biya (as Rex Lawson)
  • Bere Bote (as Cardinal Rex Jim Lawson)
  • Owuna Derina (as Cardinal Rex Jim Lawson)
  • Nume Inye (as Cardinal Rex Jim Lawson)
  • Rex Lawson in London
  •  Rex Lawson Special
  • Nume Inye (as Cardinal Rex Jim Lawson)

Hit Singles Include’s;

  1.  So ala Temen
  2.  Yellow Sisi
  3.  Jolly Papa
  4. Love Mu Adure
  5. Gowon Special
  6.  Oko Ama
  7. Owuna Derina
  8.  Tamuno Bo Ibro Ma

These songs have continued to be enjoyed and appreciated by music lovers across Africa and around the world.


Even today, Rex Lawson’s music enjoys widespread popularity in Nigeria, with his songs frequently performed and danced to at live band shows. A number of young musicians have also remixed some of his classic hits, including “Sawale,” which became a hit across Africa and was remixed in countries like Ethiopia.

Among his most popular songs were “Love Adure” and “Sawale.” In fact, the latter was even remixed by Flavour N’abania into the hit song “Nwa Baby (Ashawo).”

In recognition of his musical legacy, the Rivers State Government named a street after Lawson in the Borokiri neighborhood of Port Harcourt. Additionally, in June 2018, Rivers State Governor Ezenwo Nyesom Wike and Ooni of Ife Adeyeye Enitan Ogunwusi inaugurated the Rex Lawson Cultural Center in Port Harcourt, further honoring Lawson’s contributions to Nigerian music.

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