Toots Hibbert is perhaps the most important name in the history of reggae music and here’s why.
While many fans of reggae music are only familiar with products like Bob Marley, the name Toots and the Maytals is an integral part of the genre’s history. It’s safe to say that reggae wouldn’t be what it is today without the contributions of the prolific group. Bob Marley himself nodded in his song “Punky Reggae Party” where he sang “The Wailers will be there, the Damned, the Jam, the Clash, the Maytals will be there, Dr. Feelgood too.” The reggae industry mourns the loss of a distinguished pioneer and global ambassador.
Frederick ‘Toots’ Hibbert was born in 1942 in Clarendon, Jamaica. His incredible vocal talent was first recognized in church, where he grew up singing in his youth. As an adult, while living in Kingston, Jamaica, Toots co-founded a musical group with musicians Raleigh and Jerry. They continued to develop and also left an impression on the world which paved the way for reggae music‘s resilient anchoring in the industry.
Toots was the leader of the prominent group that went on to forge new paths for the Jamaican music industry. In the 1970s, the band’s name was changed to Toots and the Maytals as we know them today. The first generation of Toots and the Maytals includes instrumentalists Paul Douglas, Hux Brown, Jackie Jackson and Radcliffe “Dougie” Bryan.
Together they have created hits like “Sweet And Dandy”, “Monkey Man”, “Pressure Drop” and albums like “Funky Kingston” and “Reggae Got Soul”. The band did groundbreaking groundwork for the reggae genre in the ’60s when they unleashed a slew of successes, including the massive “Do The Reggay” which came out in 1968. It was the first time that they were released. one artist gave the developing genre to the time a name.
Toots was not only responsible for his role in coining the term ‘reggae’, but his voice transcended the seas that bordered his homeland and is immortalized in genres other than his own. Toots and the group Maytals wrote the original “Bam Bam” which spawned popular dancehall hits like the cover of Sister Nancy, which was sampled on Kanye West’s 2016 multi-platinum track “Famous”. Toots and the Maytals originally performed the song in 1966 at the Jamaica Festival Song Competition – an annual competition of which they have been the winners on several occasions.
Toots and the Maytals recorded a live studio album called Toots Live in 1980. It became their first Grammy-nominated body of work in 1981 when they split up after their album Knock Out! In 1988, Toots recorded his first and only solo album Toots in Memphis, which earned him another Grammy nomination. The group was reformed in the early 1990s and produced other notable albums like Grammy-nominated Ska Father. They then recorded new versions of their old hits for their critically acclaimed album True Love, which featured other artists like Shaggy, No Doubt and more, and won the Grammy Award for reggae album from the year in 2005.
Toots and the Maytals have toured the world in constant rotation, even though their early work continued to influence the genre for generations. The prolific group has produced dozens of albums, including their most recent Got To Be Tough, released on August 28, 2020. Today they are the # 1 most successful act in Jamaica and are known as the one act that could eclipse Bob Marley and the Wailers early in their careers; a group of legends who carried their music to world stages for decades and until the end.
Toots Hibbert leaves behind an incredible legacy. His fiery grater, vocal range and charisma fueled many acclaimed reggae hits around the world. In 2010, he was named one of the 100 Greatest Singers by Rolling Stone. Toots and The Maytals were listed as “reggae royalty” of Studio 17 in Kingston by Vanity Fair among Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, Bunny Wailer and more. Their song “54-46 (That’s My Number)”, which Toots wrote about his time in prison on marijuana charges in 1966-1967, was listed by Vogue as one of “15 Roots Reggae Songs That you should know “in 2015.
The group also recorded tracks for the 1972 film. The more they come with Jimmy Cliff. The soundtrack was named one of the 10 best movie soundtracks of all time by Vanity Fair. The group has performed live and made countless appearances around the world, from the Glastonbury Festival in England to the Coachella Festival in California. They even had a No.1 hit in New Zealand once.
Toots Hibbert battled colon cancer later in his life and was hospitalized with breathing difficulties in the coronavirus era in August 2020, the month the band released their latest album. His condition deteriorated upon admission to hospital, prompting calls for blood donation on his behalf. He was then plunged into an induced coma. Frederick ‘Toots’ Hibbert passed away peacefully on Saturday, September 12, 2020, but his life had meaning. His music will live on forever, not only on records but also under the obvious influence of the ever changing industry and the effervescent presence of reggae music today.