Toots Hibbert, who helped make reggae a global music genre as frontman of Toots and the Maytals, has died aged 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.
With his deep and soulful vocals, Hibbert made songs such as Pressure Drop, Monkey Man, and Funky Kingston into all-time reggae anthems. He even brought the very term “reggae” to worldwide attention with the Maytals’ 1968 song ‘Do the Reggay‘.
In the 1960’s, Toots and his band created the signature mixture of happy beats and positive and socially-conscious songwriting that came to define reggae.
Tributes poured in quickly. English comedian Lenny Henry tweeted, “His voice was powerful and adaptable to funk, soul, country, AND reggae.”
Ziggy Marley, son of that other influential reggae icon Bob, said he had recently spoken with Hibbert. “[I] told him how much I loved him we laughed and shared our mutual respect,” he tweeted. He also described him as a father figure. “His spirit is [with] us, his music fills us [with] his energy, I will never forget him.”
Hibbert was born in 1942 in Clarendon parish, Jamaica. At 16 he moved to Kingston, where he formed the vocal trio the Maytals with Henry “Raleigh” Gordon and Nathaniel “Jerry” Matthias. They were signed to the now-legendary Studio One label and began releasing singles in the early 1960s.
Hibbert was then arrested in 1966 for marijuana possession and served a year in prison (one of his most famous songs, ‘54-46 (That’s My Number)‘, would profess his innocence). He renewed his partnership with Gordon and Matthias after his release, renaming the group Toots and the Maytals.
Along with Bob Marley and the Wailers, they were one of the reggae acts signed to Island Records label, which further promoted their work outside Jamaica. ‘Monkey Man’ became a minor UK hit in 1970. Songs including ‘Pressure Drop’ were prominently included in the 1972 movie The Harder They Come, which helped popularise reggae in north America.
They influenced a new generation of Jamaican artists too, with the chorus of Sister Nancy’s 1982 hit ‘Bam Bam’ – one of the most respected and sampled reggae tracks of all time – inspired by the Maytals song of the same name.
Check out ‘Pressure Drop’ by Toots and the Maytals: