ARIA Award-winning musician Henry ‘Seaman Dan’ Gibson has died, aged 91

The National Indigenous Music Awards Hall of Fame inductee played live well into his eighties

Warning: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are advised that this article contains discussion and images of a person who has died. Permission has been granted by the subject’s family to use the image of the deceased person.

ARIA Award-winning musician Henry Gibson, better known as Uncle Seaman Dan, has died, aged 91, the official representative his family have confirmed.

The Torres Strait Islander artist passed peacefully at an aged-care facility in Cairns on December 30, 2020. A National Indigenous Music Awards Hall of Fame inductee, the Far North Queensland musician was best known for his tropical fusion soundscapes.

Uncle Dan was born on Thursday Island in 1929. Heavily influenced by Torres Strait Islander, Hawaiian, jazz and country music played to him by his parents, those sounds would later surface in Seaman Dan’s distinct writing and playing style.

Though his extensive discography would feature songs sung in English and Torres Strait Creole, Uncle Dan began his recording career later in life at age 70, touring Australia extensively.

In 2004, he received the distinction of being the oldest ARIA Award winner when he was awarded Best World Music Release for his album ‘Perfect Pearl’ at age 75, winning in the same category again in 2009, aged 80, for ‘Sailing Home’.

Seaman Dan ARIA
Seaman Dan displays his ARIA Award, supplied by Dr. Karl Neuenfeldt

In 2019 at the Queensland Music Awards, Seaman Dan was awarded the Grant McLennan Lifetime Achievement Award.

Last year, he was lauded with a Member of the Order of Australia medal for contribution to the arts.

Academic and long-time collaborator Dr. Karl Neuenfeldt described Seaman Dan’s musical legacy as “eight albums and a lot of smiling people”.

“‘Seaman’ Dan was a gifted singer, a consummate story-teller and always so proud to present his Torres Strait Islander musical heritage to the world,” Neuenfeldt said in a statement.

Neuenfeldt and Seaman Dan had co-written the 2013 book Steady Steady, a biography replete with stories of Dan’s life in the islands, his former occupation as a pearl fisherman, jackaroo, boat skipper and, of course, his musical accolades.

Seaman Dan
Seaman Dan as a pearl diver in his youth, supplied by Dr. Karl Neuenfeldt