On the night of September 11, the unique voice of “Toots” Hibbert, pioneering reggae music singer and songwriter, better known as the frontman of the group Toots and the Maytals, was silenced. He was 77 years old and died at the University Hospital of the West Indies in Kingston, Jamaica.
At the local level, the cause of death has not been confirmed although he suffered from severe respiratory problems and, therefore, internationally, it has been reported that his death is related to COVID-19.
Early the next morning, the group broke the news on Twitter:
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 … pic.twitter.com/zOb6yRpJ7n
– Toots & The Maytals (@tootsmaytals) September 12, 2020
With a broken heart we announce that Frederick Nathaniel Hibert, “Toots”, has passed away peacefully tonight, surrounded by his family at the University Hospital of the West Indies in Kingston, Jamaica.
The family and their management team want to thank the medical team and professionals for their care and dedication, and ask them to respect their privacy during the time of grief.
Mr. Hibert leaves behind his 39-year-old wife, Miss D, and seven of their eight children.
With a broken heart we announce that Frederick Nathaniel Hibert “Toots” has passed away peacefully tonight, surrounded by his family at the University Hospital of the West Indies in Kingston, Jamaica.
As obituaries and tributes rolled in from around the world, Jamaicans paid homage to the reggae icon in their own way. Unlike many other internationally renowned Jamaican musicians, “Toots” was well known and loved in Jamaica and played on the island.
Robyn Miller, a Jamaican public relations professional, reflected sadly:
Somehow, I thought u'd pull through, Toots. Maybe it's that energy, those big notes you belted out, the infectious music u continued to give us. What a firebrand u were for #jamaican music. Hell, you just gave us #RiseUpJamaica plus a new album! Man, the artistry! 😎 #YEP #Toots pic.twitter.com/c17O078hOm
– Robyn Miller (@RobynMils) September 12, 2020
Somehow, I thought you would recover, Toots. Maybe it's that energy, those great notes that you put out, the contagious music that you continued to give us. What a shaker you were for Jamaican music! Gee, you just gave us (the song) Rise Up Jamaica and a new album! Man, the art! 😎
She had been working hard in the weeks leading up to her passing, recently taking part in the Independence Party Jamaica Festival Song Contest, released a new album, and performed at an online gala in early August:
– J A Lowrie-Chin (@LowrieChin) September 12, 2020
Goodbye to our dear Toots Hibbert. Here he was at our Independence Festival where he received the award as Jamaica's Reggae Icon. Thanks for the joy. Rest in peace. 🇯🇲🙏🏽🎶🌟
Although this year's winner was Buju Banton, cultural historian Wayne Chen noted that “Toots” was the first winner of the Jamaica Festival in 1966. His winning song, whose title became a common Jamaican saying (here explained by Damian Marley ) was incorporated into the Jamaican cultural scene:
BAM BAM (1966)
1st Jamaica Festival Song competition winner. Covered or sampled by Kojack & Liza (1982), Sister Nancy (1982), Chaka Demus & Pliers (1993), Lauryn Hill (1998), Jay-Z (2017)… classic song whose title is embedded in our language. Timeless.https: //t.co/267Cb3n4Nc pic.twitter.com/X46uLPHn0P
– Wayne Chen (@wcchen) September 12, 2020
BAM BAM (1966)
Winner of the Jamaica Festival Song Competition. Copied by Kojack & Liza (1982), Sister Nancy (1982), Chaka Demus & Pliers (1993), Lauryn Hill (1998), Jay-Z (2017) … a classic song whose title has been integrated into our language. Eternal.
As two users living in Kingston point out on Twitter, Toots' upbeat and energetic performances were legendary:
The original energy God who always delivered a high energy set. He was something special, not only in how he approached his craft but how he lived. Really wish you could have given us the beat one more time …#icon #legend #TootsHibbert #TootsandtheMaytals #Reggae #RIP
– Vulcan (@cravpup) September 12, 2020
The God of energy who always provided others. It was something special, not only in the way he approached his art, but also in how he lived. I really wish you had given us the beat one more time … Icon. Legend. Toots Hibbert. Toots and the Maytals. Reggae D.E.P.
The Great Toots, I will miss you, your smile, shades always on 😎 your laugh… but I’ll miss seeing you perform… .you ignited any stage you stepped on & I had the joy of witnessing your talent. Thank you for sharing your gifts! May your music forever live !!! https://t.co/OILEUDOAmQ
– RebeccaPackerBurrell (@rebeccapacker) September 12, 2020
Last Tuesday, the singer had been admitted to the hospital and was in a drug coma. Toots. Toots Hibbert. Reggae DEPToots. D.E.P.
The extraordinary Toots, I will miss you, your smile, the nuances of your 😎 of your laugh, but, above all, I will yearn to see you perform… you lit up every stage you stepped on and I had the joy of being a witness of your talent. Thank you for sharing your gifts! May your music live forever!
Jamaica's Minister of Culture, Olivia “Babsy” Grange, joined in condolences:
– Hon. Olivia Grange (@Babsy_grange) September 12, 2020
It's a truly sad day, Toots is gone! Our hearts are shattered. We love you, Toots. 😭
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Andrew Holness noted that, for decades, the singer had been the spokesperson for Jamaican culture abroad, and that he proudly represented the nation:
Over the years, Toots has added significant value to #BrandJamaica and many of us will remember him as one of Jamaica’s best musical talents.
– Andrew Holness (@AndrewHolnessJM) September 12, 2020
Today I mourn with all Jamaicans as we woke to news of the passing of our very own legendary Reggae singer Frederick “Toots” Hibbert from the iconic band, “Toots and the Maytals”.
Toots died at the University Hospital of the West Indies in St Andrew, late Friday.
Over the years, Toots has added significant value to the Jamaica brand and will be remembered by many of us as one of Jamaica's finest musical talents.
The group Toots and the Maytals, whose name pays homage to May Pen (hometown of “Toots”), established themselves in Jamaican iconography thanks to an appearance in the cult film “Caiga que caiga” by director Perry Henzell from 1972, starring Jamaican singer Jimmy Cliff.
So important was “Toots” to this indigenous musical genre that it is often credited with the invention of the word “reggae” in the 1960s. All part of a complicated history that American writer Ben Zimmer tried to unravel in a long Twitter thread:
RIP, Toots Hibbert, originator of the term “reggae.” The Maytals ’1968 song“ Do the Reggay ”is credited in the @OED with the first known use, originally referring to a kind of dance. Toots, when asked later, said it came from a Jamaican word “streggae” meaning “raggedy.” one/ pic.twitter.com/V89vuwogxP
– Ben Zimmer (@bgzimmer) September 12, 2020
DEP, Toots Hibbert, creator of the term “reggae”. The Maytals song “Do the Reggay” from 1968 is recognized by the Oxford English Dictionary as the first time this word is used, originally referring to a type of dance. Later, when Hibbits was asked, he said that it precedes the Jamaican word “streggae” which means “shaggy, irregular.”
Whatever the origin of the term, there is no doubt that Toots encompassed various musical styles such as ska, which became very popular in the UK. He also had a remarkably moving and deep voice:
Toots was probably the funkiest Jamaican vocalist ever.
He was really a soul funk singer as much as he was a reggae one.
– BiggerBlackerBarry (@BiggerBarry) September 12, 2020
Toots was probably the most vibrant Jamaican vocalist of all time.
He was a soul funk and reggae singer.
Outside of Jamaica, celebrities, fellow musicians and the many fans voiced their thoughts. Ziggy Marley, Bob Marley's eldest son, mourned him like a family friend.
The Legendary Toots Hibbert has passed i spoke w / him a few wks ago told him how much i loved him we laughed & shared our mutual respect. He was a father figure to me his spirit is w / us his music fills us w / his energy i will never forget him RIP MIGHTY & POWERFUL NYAH FYAH BALL 😢 pic.twitter.com/zIofrbYZU0
– Ziggy Marley (@ziggymarley) September 12, 2020
The legendary Toots Hibbert has died, I spoke to him a few weeks ago and told him how much I loved him. We laugh and share our respect for each other. He was a father to me, his spirit is with us, his music fills us with his energy. I will never forget. REST IN PEACE, POWERFUL. 😢
British comedian Lenny Henry posted:
Toots & The Maytals – Funky Kingston https://t.co/iRNOtswHKN via @Youtube So sorry to hear of Toots Hibbert’s death. His music was a constant in our house growing up via Tighten up albums. His voice was powerful and adaptable to funk, soul, country, AND reggae. Rest in power …
– Lenny Henry (@LennyHenry) September 12, 2020
Toots & The Maytals- I am so sorry to hear of Toots Hibbert's death. His music was a constant in our house when we were kids, through the Tighten up albums. His voice was powerful and suited to (music) funk, soul, country AND reggae. Rest well…
Island Records founder Chris Blackwell observed:
Very saddened to hear of the passing of Toots Hibbert
Speaking about his friend Island’s founder Chris Blackwell once said “I've known Toots longer than anybody… Toots is one of the purest human beings I've met in my life, pure almost to a fault.” pic.twitter.com/kgq7if7vQg
– Island Records (@islandrecordsuk) September 12, 2020
I am very saddened to hear of Toots Hibbert's death.
Speaking of his friend the founder of Island, Chris Blackwell, he once said: “I've known Toots for longer than anyone … Toots is one of the purest human beings I have ever met, pure almost to the core.”
On the singer's decidedly optimistic musical stance, Toots's BBC obituary cited a 2012 interview in which he described his music as “a message of comfort, a message of salvation”:
The youth are going to the school and they have to listen to the words. The parents have to listen to the words. God has to listen to the words. So, we have to make it positive.
Young people go to school and have to listen to the words. Parents have to listen to the words. God has to hear the words. Therefore, we have to make it optimistic.
Toots' intensely upbeat music, which lifted the spirits of millions around the world and in Jamaica, seems more poignant and possibly more necessary than ever as his home island battles the COVID-19 pandemic.