Toots Hibbert, of Toots and the Maytals, dies at 77


Toots Hibbert performs in 2019.
Toots Hibbert of Toots and the Maytals performs in Singapore, 2019. (Suhaimi Abdullah/Getty Images)

Toots Hibbert, the reggae legend who helped found and even name the Jamaica-born genre, has died at age 77 after showing symptoms consistent with COVID-19.

"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," said Toots and the Maytals in a statement early this morning.

A gifted multi-instrumentalist, Hibbert founded the Maytals as a vocal group with Ralphus "Raleigh" Gordon and Nathaniel "Jerry" Matthias in 1962, rising to fame in Jamaica (the band was named after Hibbert's hometown of May Pen) and inspired the name of "the new dance, going around the town" with their 1968 song "Do the Reggay."

As reggae exploded to global popularity, Toots and the Maytals became one of the most lauded and popular groups in the genre, with Lester Bangs calling their 1972 album Funky Kingston "perfection." That same year, they appeared in the seminal Jamaican film The Harder They Come, contributing their song "Pressure Drop" to the iconic reggae soundtrack.

Over the succeeding decades, Hibbert became a beloved elder statesman of the genre, winning a Grammy for Best Reggae Album (True Love) in 2005 and collaborating with artists ranging from Red Hot Chili Peppers to Major Lazer. The 2011 documentary Reggae Got Soul: The Story of Toots and the Maytals featured testimonials from peers including Jimmy Cliff and Ziggy Marley, among many other stars.

Hibbert's artistic legacy includes helping to found the sound of one of the 20th century's most popular and influential genres, with distinctive, forceful vocals inspired by classic soul. He said his relationship with fellow reggae great Bob Marley had been one of mutual respect and support.

"We always enjoyed hearing each other singing — ska music, up-tempo music and reggae music," said Hibbert. "My memories of that time are of happiness. The Maytals and the Wailers always had a good time together. It's good to remember where this music comes from."

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