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Updated at 11:49 AM ET
Frederick “Toots” Hibbert, the singer and songwriter of Toots and the Maytals and one of the key figures of reggae, died Friday in Kingston, Jamaica. He was 77 years old.
His death was announced on the band’s Facebook and Twitter accounts. “It is with the deepest of hearts to announce that Frederick Nathaniel ‘Toots’ Hibbert died peacefully this evening, surrounded by his family at the West Indies University Hospital in Kingston, Jamaica,” the statement read.
The cause of death was not disclosed, but his Facebook account confirmed on Aug.31 that Hibbert had been tested for coronavirus for the past two weeks and placed in intensive care.
Hibbert’s thrilling and electrifying performances have thrilled live music lovers for more than 50 years and have brought a distinctive Jamaican expression to international audiences. His 1968 song “Do The Reggay” gave Jamaica’s signature beat a name, but his artistry defied boundaries. His voice is an amalgam of overwhelming gospel, vintage soul, gritty R&B and country classic fused with indigenous Jamaican rhythms. Hibbert brought a stunning island cadence to Otis Redding’s standard “(I’ve Got) Dreams to Remember”, turned Ann Peebles’ “I Can’t Stand The Rain” into a searing serenade, and forever changed “Country Roads. “by John Denver in a beloved reggae anthem sung together.
Hibbert’s humble demeanor and affable personality belied his imposing overall stature. Considered a national treasure in Jamaica, in 2012 he was awarded the Order of Jamaica, the fifth highest honor in the country.
“For my generation, Toots is the best performer,” said Roy “Gramps” Morgan of reggae group Morgan Heritage. “The [kind of] artist who leaves everything on stage, physically and spiritually. Toots is the James Brown of reggae and one of the greatest Jamaican singers of all time. You won’t find another singer who plays like Toots and you won’t hear that sound again. ”
Frederick Nathaniel “Toots” Hibbert was born on December 8, 1942 in rural May Pen, Clarendon, about 45 minutes west of Jamaica’s capital Kingston. Hibbert’s parents were preachers and he grew up singing gospel in what he calls “a church of salvation”. The clapping, pounding, and soul-shaking voice associated with Jamaica’s Afro-Christian religious traditions, including Revival Zion and Pocomania, were essential in shaping Hibbert’s performances. Hibbert also cites Elvis Presley, gospel icon Mahalia Jackson and soul superstars James Brown, Wilson Pickett and Otis Redding as influences.
In his early teens, Hibbert moved to Trench Town, an economically poor but musically thriving community in western Kingston, also home to future reggae artists including Peter Tosh, Bunny Wailer and Bob Marley, who became The Wailers. While working as a barber, Hibbert met Nathaniel “Jerry” Matthias and Henry “Raleigh” Gordon and formed the vocal trio of the Maytals, around 1961, at the dawn of the Jamaican ska era. Matthias and Gordon had previously recorded a single ensemble and knew that Hibbert’s powerful voice would enhance their sound. The Maytals continued to release numerous singles for the best Jamaican producers of the 1960s. They signed Clement’s Studio One label “Sir Coxsone” Dodd in 1962, releasing ska gems such as “Hallelujah”, “Fever” and the outstanding “Six and Seven Books of Moses”, with Hibbert’s galvanizing gospel delivery.
Studio One was considered the Motown of Jamaica, home to many outstanding young singing, songwriting and instrumental talents, including The Wailers, Bob Andy, The Heptones, Marcia Griffiths and Jackie Mittoo. The Maytals, however, were dissatisfied with Dodd’s payments and moved on. They recorded the frenetic “Dog War”, which hints at leaving Dodd and working with his rival Prince Buster instead. They made history with producer and band leader Byron Lee when their gleeful romp ska “It’s You” and his b-side, R&B ballad “Daddy” both top the Jamaica charts. In August 1966, the Maytals’ “Bam Bam”, also produced by Lee, won the inaugural competition of the Jamaica Festival Song, held annually in conjunction with the island’s Independence Day celebrations. (The refrain of “Bam Bam” was present in the homonymous song of the sister Nancy of 1982). Hibbert was arrested shortly after the Maytals’ victory and sentenced to 18 months for possession of marijuana; he described the incident as “political, a means of keeping me low”.
By the time Hibbert was released from prison, the lively ska rhythm created in the Kingston studios had slowed down and morphed into rocksteady. The reunited Maytals began recording for producer Leslie Kong; their first release “54-46 (That’s My Number)”, which Toots wrote about his prison sentence, became the Maytals’ biggest hit of that era and had remained a staple in Hibbert’s lives. Kong’s other productions with The Maytals include “Monkey Man”, which broke into the UK singles charts, and “Do The Reggay”, which became the first song to mark the beat that followed rocksteady, which is Jamaica’s most successful (musical) export. When asked about the origins of the word, reggay, shortly after he wrote “reggae,” Toots offered: “Streggay was a slang word in Jamaica, it meant something that looked messy, scruffy, so one day I was talking to Raleigh and Jerry and just ha changed the word to reggae and said, let’s make music, let’s make reggae “.
Two Kong-produced Maytals songs – “Pressure Drop,” about the difficult conditions in Jamaica, and “Sweet and Dandy,” a gripping tale of a rural wedding – were included on the Island Records soundtrack for the 1972 landmark film. The More difficult they come, which introduced reggae to America. In the film, directed by Perry Henzell, the Maytals record “Sweet and Dandy” (the winner of the Jamaica Festival Song Contest in 1969) as the film’s protagonist, aspiring singer Ivan O. Martin (played by Jimmy Cliff), watches mesmerized. .
Chris Blackwell signed The Maytals to Island Records and changed their name to Toots and the Maytals, with Maytals now referring to the singers and band members. They have released several influential albums for the label, including Funky Kingston (1975), Reggae has a soul (1976) and, after the departure of Matthias and Gordon, Hibbert’s solo album Toots in Memphis (1988). The latter, accompanied by Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare, aka the historic rhythm section Sly and Robbie, was critically acclaimed and earned Hibbert his first Grammy nomination.
“Toots was the writer, the singer, the songwriter, you never saw anyone else on stage because Toots was so charismatic,” Blackwell said in the 2011 BBC documentary. Toots and The Maytals: Reggae Got Soul. “The Maytals were unlike anything else; sensational, raw and dynamic. There are many occasions when you hear someone’s record and then go see them 10 years later and it’s a bit of a disappointment. But Toots gives it all to him. his audience never calls us. “
“One of the things Toots always told us was to ‘sing with your soul, man,'” said Morgan, whose father, Denroy Morgan, had known Hibbert since childhood in Mocho Village, May Pen. “Study the great showmen like James Brown and Otis Redding because when someone pays to visit you, they have to have an experience.”
Later in life, Hibbert won the 2005 Grammy for Best Reggae Album for True love. Each song on the record was a collaboration with some of his biggest fans, including Eric Clapton, Bootsy Collins and The Roots, Willie Nelson, Keith Richards and Jamaican greats Shaggy, Marcia Griffiths and Ken Boothe. Bonnie Raitt, who is featured on the title track “True Love is Hard to Find”, said performing with Toots and his band is “one of the highlights of my life”.
On August 28, 2020, Hibbert released the last album of his career and his first new studio album in a decade, the apt title I have to be tough. On the album, a passionate Hibbert tackles the global atrocities of soul jam “Just Brutal”, overcoming obstacles on the funk-infused “Struggle”, fighting dirty principles with decency on the horrible “Warning Warning” and remaining resilient no matter what circumstances on the ‘indomitable title track.
Two days after the release of I have to be tough, Hibbert was admitted to the Kingston University Hospital of the West Indies.