Reggae pioneer Toots Hibbert of Toots & the Maytals, credited with coining the term “reggae,” dead at 77

Reggae icon Toots Hibbert, who with his band Toots & the Maytals helped to popularize reggae worldwide, died Friday night.  He was 77.

A statement posted Friday on the band’s official Twitter reads, “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 asks for the family’s privacy to be respected “during their time of grief.”

As the statement notes, Hibbert is survived by his wife of 39 years, Miss D, and seven of his eight children.

A cause of death was not given, but Rolling Stone reports that Hibbert was hospitalized last month after showing symptoms consistent with COIVD-19.

In the early 1960s, Hibbert and the Maytals fused Jamaican styles like rocksteady, ska and mento with gospel, soul and R&B to create what we now know as reggae: His 1968 song “Do the Reggay” is credited with giving the genre its name.

Among Toots & the Maytals genre-defining songs: “Pressure Drop” — famously covered by The Clash — “Sweet and Dandy,” “Monkey Man” and “54-46 Was My Number,” the latter inspired by Hibbert’s 1967 nine-month stint in jail for pot possession.  Their music was also featured in the landmark 1972 Jimmy Cliff film The Harder They Come, whose soundtrack has been described as “bringing reggae to the world.”

The Maytals counted music’s elite among their fans: In 2004, they released a Grammy-winning duets album called True Love that featured Eric Clapton, Bonnie Raitt, Keith Richards, No Doubt and Phish‘s Trey Anastasio, as well as Willie Nelson, The Roots and Shaggy.

Hibbert’s death comes just weeks after the release of Got to Be Tough, Toots & the Maytals’ first full-length album in more than a decade.  It was produced by Zak Starkey and featured Starkey’s dad, Ringo Starr, as well as Sly Dunbar, Cyril Neville and Ziggy Marley.

In a statement on Instagram, Ziggy wrote, in part, “i am fully in sorrow tonight i will miss his smile and laughter his genuine nature @tootsmaytalsofficial was a father figure to me his spirit is with us his music fills us with his energy i will never forget him. #foundingfather.”

Warren Haynes of The Allman Brothers Band and Gov’t Mule wrote a lengthy tribute to Hibbert, recalling his experiences performing with him over the years — especially a 2006 New Year’s Eve show at New York’s Beacon Theater during which he joined Gov’t Mule for an entire set.

“‘Toots’ was, in my opinion, the greatest Jamaican soul singer,” Haynes 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.”

By Andrea Dresdale
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