Toots Hibbert, leader of the pioneering reggae group Toots And The Maytals, has died. His band confirmed the news on social media, writing:
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 professionnals for their care and diligence, and ask that you respect their privacy uring their time of grief. Mr. Hibbert is survived by his wife of 39 years, Miss D, and his seven of eight children.
While no cause of death has been officially announced, Hibbert was hospitalized in an intensive care unit at the end of August after displaying symptoms consistent with COVID-19. Shortly afterwards, he was placed in a medically induced coma. He was 77.
Toots Hibbert was born Frederick Nathaniel Hibbert in May Pen, Jamaica, a town about 30 miles west of Kingston, in 1942. His parents were strict Seventh-day Adventist preachers, so he and his older siblings grew up singing in a church choir. Hibbert’s mother and father both died by the time he was 11, and he moved to Kingston to live with his older brother.
In 1962, two other musicians named Ralphus “Raleigh” Gordon and Nathaniel “Jerry” Matthias heard Hibbert singing in the barbershop where he worked. They formed a vocal trio called the Maytals, named after Hibbert’s hometown, and recorded their first songs at Studio One with producer Clement “Coxsone” Dodd. In 1966, they won the first Jamaican Independence Festival Popular Song Competition with “Bam Bam.”
Following an 18-month stint in prison for marijuana possession, chronicled in his iconic song “54-46 That’s My Number,” Toots And The Maytals’ went on to greater and greater success. Hibbert’s voice, often compared to American singers like Otis Redding and Ray Charles, brought a soulfulness and grit to their danceable ska and rocksteady music, and the Maytals’ 1968 song “Do The Reggay” gave their developing genre its name: reggae.
Toots And The Maytals scored an international hit in 1970 with “Monkey Man” and quickly became stars around the world. In 1975, they opened for the Who on their tour of North America. The Specials covered “Monkey Man” on their 1979 debut, and the Clash recorded a version of “Pressure Drop.” Toots embarked on a solo career after the Maytals split up in 1981, but they reformed with a new lineup in the ’90s.
Just a few weeks ago, Toots And The Maytals released Got To Be Tough, their first album in more than a decade. Bob Marley’s son Ziggy, who appeared on the album on a cover of his father’s hit “Three Little Birds,” tweeted a tribute to Hibbert. “He was a father figure to me his spirit is w/us his music fills us w/his energy i will never forget him,” he wrote.