R.I.P. Toots Hibbert, Reggae Pioneer and Frontman of Toots & The Maytals Dies at 77

Frederick Nathaniel “Toots” Hibbert, founder of the pioneering reggae group Toots & the Maytals, has died at the age of 77.

Hibbert had been hospitalized in his native Kingston, Jamaica after contracting COVID-19. He passed away Friday, September 11th, surrounded by family, according to a statement.

By incorporating elements of Jamaican ska and rocksteady alongside traditional gospel, soul, R&B, and rock & roll, Hibbert is widely credit as being one of the originators of the reggae genre. In fact, Toots & the Maytals’ 1968 single “Do the Reggay” was the first song to use the word “reggae” and would ultimately give the genre its name.

In the early 1960s, Hibbert formed The Maytals alongside fellow vocalists Henry “Raleigh” Gordon and Nathaniel “Jerry” Mathias and instrumentalists Jackie Jackson, Hux Brown, Rad Bryan, and Paul Douglas. After finding initial success working alongside producer Clement “Coxsone” Dodd and his house band, The Skalites, The Maytals’ activities were briefly derailed after Hibbert was arrested and sentenced to 18 months in jail for possession of marijuana. However, while behind bars, Hibbert wrote “54-46 That’s My Number”, which would become one of The Maytals’ first hit singles.

Following Hibbert’s release from jail, The Maytals found fame beyond Jamaica thanks to singles including the aforementioned “Do the Reggay”, “Monkey Man”, and “Pressure Drop”, the latter of which is now considered one of reggae music’s defining songs. In 1972, Toots & The Maytals were further introduced to an international audience after their music was featured heavily in the popular Jamaican crime film The Harder They Come. The following year brought the release of their now seminal album, Funky Kingston.

Not only were Toots & The Maytals torchbearers of the Jamaican reggae movement, but the band’s music inspired the creation of a second genre in the United Kingdom in the late 1970s. Bands like The Specials, The Selector, and Madness combined elements of punk rock with ska and reggae to foster a sound that would come to be known as 2-tone. Notably, The Specials covered The Maytals’ “Monkey Man” on their 1979 debut, and The Clash recorded their own version of “Pressure Drop” in 1980.

Hibbert pursued a solo career in the 1980s, but reformed Toots & The Maytals the following decade and continued to lead the group up until his death. Toots & The Maytals currently hold the record for most No. 1 singles in Jamaica (39), and in 2004, they won their first Grammy with True Love, a collection of past hits re-recorded with collaborations like Willie Nelson, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Trey Anastasio, No Doubt, and Manu Chao. Toots & The Maytals’ most recent album, Got to Be Tough, was released just last month.

Hibbert is surved by his wife of 39 year and seven children.

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