Reggae Pioneer Toots Hibbert Dies at Age 77

Hibbert was in the middle of an international tour with Toots and the Maytals, when he took ill.

Toots Hibbert last performance in Los Angles at the 2018 Reggae in the Mountain. Photo by L. Johnson/CaribPress. All Rights Reserved © 2020

Toots Hibbert last performance in Los Angles at the 2018 Reggae on the Mountain, (ROTM).    Photo by Lyndon Johnson/CaribPress. All Rights Reserved © 2020

The Honorable Frederick Nathaniel “Toots” Hibbert, O.J., whose band Toots and the Maytals not only helped popularize the musical form known as reggae, but also its name, died Friday, September 11, 2020 at the age of 77. He died from complications of COVID-19.

Born December 8, 1942, the youngest of eight children of parents who were both Seventh-day Adventist preachers, Hibbert grew up in a strict household. He sang gospel in the church choir. At the tender age of eleven, Hibbert now an orphan, went to live with his brother John in the Trenchtown community of Kingston, Jamaica.

Hibbert formed the Maytals in Kingston as a vocal trio with Henry “Raleigh” Gordon and Nathaniel “Jerry” Matthias in 1962. Maytals was a demonym for residents of May Pen, Clarendon Parish, Jamaica, Hibbert’s hometown. After the group was signed to Island Records, a backing band was added which consisted of Clifton “Jackie” Jackson, Hux Brown, Rad Bryan, and Paul Douglas. Originally known as simply the Maytals, the band would adopt the moniker Toots and the Maytals in 1972.

Toots and the Maytals are known for a string of popular recordings that helped define the reggae genre. One of their early singles was “Do the Reggay.” Released in 1968, the song referred to a popular dance at the time, but soon emerged as the name that identified the style of music known as reggae today.

Another early Maytals recording was “54-46 (That’s My Number)” (later re-recorded as “54-46 Was My Number”), which was inspired by Hibbert’s 18-month stint in prison in the mid-1960s for possession of marijuana. It was one of the first reggae songs to receive extensive airplay outside of Jamaica. Over the years, the song’s popularity endures, being covered by numerous artists including Aswad, Yellowman, Buju Banton, and Vanilla Ice.

Other classic recordings of Toots and the Maytals include “Pressure Drop,” “Sweet and Dandy,” “Monkey Man,” “Pomps and Pride,” and “Funky Kingston.” “Pomps and Pride” and “Pressure Drop” were both featured in the soundtrack to the 1972 film, The Harder They Come, which helped introduce Toots and the Maytals to an international audience.

Most of the Maytals best-known recordings were either written or co-written by Hibbert.

Toots Hibbert performing in Orlando, Florida - Toots and the Maytals in concert. Karl Simpson / CC BY-SA

Toots Hibbert performing in Orlando, Florida – Toots and the Maytals in concert.
Karl Simpson / CC BY-SA

As an individual or as a member of Toots and the Maytals, Hibbert has received six Grammy nominations. At the 47th Grammy Awards, Toots and the Maytals won the award for “Best Reggae Album” for True Love in 2004.

In 2010, Rolling Stone magazine selected Hibbert as one of the “100 Greatest Singers of All Time.”

In 2012, on National Heroes Day in Jamaica, Hibbert received the Order of Jamaica (O.J.) title.

Got to be Tough, the 24th Toots and the Maytals studio album (their first in nearly a decade) was released late last month. The album features a cover of “Three Little Birds,” made famous by Bob Marley. The cover features Ziggy Marley, who described Hibbert as a “father figure” on a tweet he posted on his Twitter account immediately after Hibbert’s death was made public.

Hibbert was in the middle of an international tour with Toots and the Maytals, when he took ill.

Survivors include Doreen, his wife of nearly 40 years, and seven of their eight children.

Leave a Reply