Toots Hibbert, Pioneering Reggae Star, Dies At 77 – Frederick “Toots” Hibbert, frontman of the pioneering reggae outfit Toots and the Maytals and one of the greatest voices in popular music, died Friday evening.
Toots Hibbert, Pioneering Reggae Star, Dies At 77:
Toots Hibbert, one of reggae’s founders and most beloved stars who gave the music its name and later helped make it an international movement through such classics as “Pressure Drop,” “Monkey Man” and “Funky Kingston,” has died. He was 77.
A statement from his family on Saturday read: “It is with the heaviest of hearts to announce that Frederick Nathaniel “Toots” Hibbert passed away peacefully tonight, surrounded by his family at the University Hospital of the West Indies in Kingston, Jamaica.
“The family and his management team would like to thank the medical teams and professionals for their care and diligence, and ask that you respect their privacy during their time of grief.”
He had been receiving treatment at a private hospital in Kingston, Jamaica.
Toots Hibbert cause of death was not disclosed, but the reggae giant was hospitalized last month after showing symptoms consistent with the coronavirus. He was later placed in a medically-induced coma where a rep for the musician said he was “fighting for his life.”
With his full-throated, anthemically soulful vocals and multi-instrumentalist talent, Hibbert made songs like Pressure Drop, Monkey Man, and Funky Kingston into all-time reggae classics, and even brought the very term “reggae” to wider attention with the Maytals’ 1968 song Do the Reggay.
In bringing such strong songwriting to bear on the “rocksteady” musical style that was evolving in the mid-1960s, he helped create the blend of good-natured mid-tempo music with storytelling, positive affirmations and socially conscious lyrics that would come to define reggae. He was also a key proponent of the faster ska style, and heavily influenced its successive waves and iterations, including the UK 2 Tone and US ska-punk scenes.
Lenny Henry paid tribute on Twitter, describing his music as “a constant” throughout his childhood: “His voice was powerful and adaptable to funk, soul, country, AND reggae,” he tweeted.
“I spoke with him a few weeks ago [and] told him how much i loved him and what he means to me,” Ziggy Marley said in a statement. “We laughed and shared our mutual respect. I am fully in sorrow tonight. I will miss his smile and laughter [and] his genuine nature. [Toots] was a father figure to me; his spirit is with us [and] his music fills us with his energy. I will never forget him. #foundingfather.
Toots Hibbert, Reggae Pioneer Who Infused Genre With Soul, Dead:
Frederick “Toots” Hibbert was born in 1942 in Clarendon parish, Jamaica, to parents who were Seventh Day Adventist preachers – his first music-making came as a child singing in the church choir.
Aged about 16 he moved to Kingston, where he formed the vocal trio the Maytals with Henry “Raleigh” Gordon and Nathaniel “Jerry” Matthias, with the gospel harmonising of his youth deployed on rhythm and blues, ska and more. They were signed to the now-legendary Studio One label owned by Clement “Coxsone” Dodd, and accompanied by the Skatalites, began releasing singles in the early 1960s.
But just as his career was taking off with a tour of England on the horizon, Hibbert was arrested in 1967 for possession of marijuana and spent nine months in a low-security prison. Hibbert maintains his innocence to this day, insinuating it may have been a setup concocted by music-industry rivals, though he never went so far as to name names.
Despite this inconvenient blip, Hibbert’s career hardly took a hit: Upon his release, Toots and the Maytals recorded “54-46, That’s My Number,” a song of righteous indignation inspired by Hibbert’s incarceration that became the group’s first major hit outside Jamaica.
Over the next few years, Toots and the Maytals embarked on an incredible run that would help define reggae and see their music spread across England, Europe, and the United States. There were hit singles like “Monkey Man” and “Pomp and Pride,” and then a pair of career-defining performances — “Pressure Drop” and “Sweet and Dandy” — featured in the 1972 Jimmy Cliff cult classic, The Harder They Come.
By the time Toots and the Maytals released what would become their seminal album, Funky Kingston, in 1973, they’d cultivated the kind of mystique outside Jamaica that would cement their legendary status in subsequent years.
The core trio split in 1981, with Hibbert going solo and taking a hiatus from recording for much of the decade, though 1988 brought the first of four Grammy nominations, for the album Toots in Memphis. Hibbert eventually won best reggae album in 2004, for True Love, which revisited greatest hits via starry collaborations with artists including Eric Clapton, Keith Richards, No Doubt, Shaggy, and more.
By that time he had reformed Toots and the Maytals with new members, and the band became a longstanding live favourite, more frequently recording studio albums. Beginning in 2013, however, there was a three-year hiatus from performing after Hibbert was struck in the head by a bottle thrown by an audience member during a US festival performance. Toots Hibbert told the judge in the ensuing trial that he had suffered “extreme anxiety, memory loss, headaches, dizziness and, most sadly of all, a fear of crowds and performing”.
There was also a decade-long gap between studio recordings, from 2010’s Flip and Twist until 2020’s well-regarded return, Got to Be Tough.
Toots Hibbert’s work in the Reggae Center culminated in a wild, two-day recording session late last year that resulted in Toots and the Maytals’ Got to Be Tough. The album was produced by Zak Starkey, and features contributions from Starkey’s father, Ringo Starr, as well as Sly Dunbar, Cyril Neville, and Ziggy Marley, who joins Toots on a cover of Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds.” As the final offering of his career, it finds Hibbert playing the role he’s always played, and communicating the things he’s always communicated.
Mr. Hibbert is survived by his wife of 39 years, Miss D, and his seven of eight children.