In Memoriam: Reggae Legend Toots Hibbert (1942-2020)

Jake May on September 12, 2020
In Memoriam: Reggae Legend Toots Hibbert (1942-2020)

Jamaican Reggae legend Frederick Nathaniel “Toots” Hibbert passed away last night, which was confirmed by his band Toots & The Maytals. He was 77 years old.

“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 statement read. “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.”

While the cause of death was not confirmed in the statement, Hibbert had been in the hospital fighting COVID-19 symptoms and had been placed in a medically-induced coma last week.

The statement added that Hibbert is survived by his wife of 39 years, Miss D and seven of his eight children.

Hibbert was born in 1942 in May Pen, Parish of Clarendon, Jamaica, the youngest of eight children. His first exposure to music was through gospel and church music, as his parents were both strict Seventh-day Adventists preachers. Tragically, both died young; at 11 years old, after his parents passed, Hibbert went to live with his brother in Kingston, Jamaica. It was there that he met Ralphius “Raleigh” Gordon and Nathaniel “Jerry” Matthias. The trio formed The Maytals.

In the 1960s, The Maytals gained popularity throughout Jamaica. In 1968, the group released “Do The Reggay,” which is credited as the first use of the genre’s name (albeit spelled differently). The group released several hits during this decade, including “Bam Bam,” “54-46 That’s My Number” and “Pressure Drop.”

In the ’70s, now renamed Toots & The Maytals, the group released their first record Funky Kingston. Later that year, Hibbert appeared in The Harder They Come, whose soundtrack included “Pressure Drop.”

Hibbert continued to tour until 2013, when a fan threw a vodka bottle at the stage during his set in Richmond, Va. The bottle hit Hibbert in the head and gave him a concussion, which led to a three-year break in performing.

Earlier in August, Toots & The Maytals released Got to Be Tough, the group’s first studio album since 2010. The album includes a cover of Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds,” featuring Marley’s son Ziggy.

Ziggy Marley shared a statement on Hibbert’s passing, in which he called him “a father figure” and said he would “never forget him.” See his statement below.

Guitarist Warren Haynes, who recorded and performed with Hibbert many times, also shared a lengthy note on Hibbert’s death. “‘Toots’ was, in my opinion, the greatest Jamaican soul singer,” he wrote. “I say that not to downplay his immense role in the creation of Reggae music- he coined the term Reggae- but to point out that as a singer his voice stands among the giants like Otis Redding, Ray Charles, Solomon Burke, Jackie Wilson, Sam Cooke etc. which is not to say that the other Reggae giants weren’t great soul singers in their own rites as well, but Toots was the ‘real fucking deal.'”

“I’m gonna miss Toots but the world of music is gonna miss him even more,” Haynes concluded. “As I stated earlier, we have lost another giant.” Read his full note below.

Trey Anastasio also shared a statement on Hibbert’s passing. “I was so sad to wake up this morning and hear about the passing of Toots Hibbert,” he wrote. “Like so many people, I’ve loved his music my entire life. It was ubiquitous, playing at parties and gatherings. It felt like an element, like air.” He went on to share a story about Toots & The Maytals recording at The Barn studio. Read his full statement below.

Hibbert performed at the LOCKN’ Festival in 2018; watch clip from his set below.

Frederick Nathaniel "Toots" Hibbert “Toots” was, in my opinion, the greatest Jamaican soul singer. I say that not to…

Posted by Warren Haynes on Saturday, September 12, 2020
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I was so sad to wake up this morning and hear about the passing of Toots Hibbert. Like so many people, I’ve loved his music my entire life. It was ubiquitous, playing at parties and gatherings. It felt like an element, like air. In 2003, I was asked to play on Toot’s new album, True Love. I was told that the Maytals were coming to the Barn to record. When Toots and the band arrived for the session, I was nervous and basically speechless. Toots was a ray of light, so kind and welcoming. The guys in the band hovered in the corner, smoking more ganja than I had ever seen consumed. We decided to play Sweet and Dandy. I was a bit mortified and confused as to why such an iconic song should be re-released, but we recorded it, and it was was a thrill. What happened next I will never forget for as long as I live. Toots was supposed to do a song with Willie Nelson, but Willie was not there of course. Toots began searching, playing different Willie songs deafeningly loud through the giant speakers in the barn, while a bunch of us stood next to him by the soundboard. He said that he had to believe every single word in order to sing a song, a lesson I’ll never forget. He heard “Still is Still Moving to Me” and liked the song, and then as I stood watching, he and the Maytals recorded that track, live in the barn. Willie added his vocal after the fact. As long as I live, I will never forget watching it all go down. On playback, the engineer turned the bass ALL the way up. I don’t even know how to describe how booming it was. The bass knob was pinned to the right and the speakers were on 10. I’ve never heard bass that loud in my life. The barn was literally shaking. My guts were shaking. It was incredible. Toots sang his vocal, moving and dancing with his body, embodying every single syllable, like an open tube to the cosmos. Thank you Toots for a lifetime of joy and blessings. Rest In Peace. 📷: @david.corio

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