Toots and the Maytals singer Frederick “Toots” Hibbert died Friday night (September 11) in Kingston, Jamaica, the BBC reports. A statement on the group’s Twitter account confirmed the news, giving no cause of death. He was 77.
With the Maytals, Hibbert established himself as a leader in the development of the bright, easygoing sound of reggae in the mid-1960s. He was also credited with popularizing the term through his 1968 song “Do the Reggay.”
Hibbert formed the Maytals as a trio with Nathaniel “Jerry” Mathiasin and Henry “Raleigh” Gordon in Kingston in 1962. The group released their debut, The Sensational Maytals, in 1965, quickly finding popularity in Jamaica. They won Jamaica’s National Song Prize in 1966 with Hibbert’s song “Bam Bam.” As the group expanded, they repeated the feat in 1969 with “Sweet and Dandy” and again in 1972 with “Pomps & Pride,” both of which Hibbert wrote. In 1972, “Sweet and Dandy” and “Pressure Drop” appeared on the soundtrack to the Kingston crime film The Harder They Come, which helped introduce reggae to American audiences.
In 1966, not long after winning the National Song Prize, Hibbert was sentenced to 18 months in prison on charges of marijuana possession that he says were invented by corrupt authorities. The experience inspired him to write “54-46 Was My Number,” which became one of the Maytals’ best known songs after its release on 1973’s In the Dark.
The Maytals released their third album, Funky Kingston, in 1972 on the Island imprint Dragon Records, which helped the record cross over to the United Kingdom. In 1975, another version of Funky Kingston was released in the United States that featured songs from In the Dark and only three of the album’s original tracks. The American version helped cement the band’s stateside popularity, and they toured with the Who, Linda Ronstadt, Jackson Browne, and the Eagles around its release.
Hibbert continued to release music throughout the 1980s and 1990s, both solo and with new iterations of Toots and the Maytals. He won a Best Reggae Album Grammy for 2004’s True Love. The group’s final record was August’s Got to Be Tough.
That month, Hibbert was hospitalized in an intensive care unit at a private facility in Kingston, where he was tested for COVID-19. On September 2, Jamaica’s Gleaner reported that Hibbert’s condition had worsened, and that he was in a medically induced coma at Kingston’s University Hospital of the West Indies. He is survived by his wife of 39 years and seven children, the band wrote on Twitter
Paying tribute to Hibbert on Instagram, Ziggy Marley wrote, “I will miss his smile and laughter, his genuine nature. Toots was a father figure to me, his spirit is with us, his music fills us with his energy. I will never forget him.”