A Legend Passes On
By Kesha Stewart | Associate Writer
Midnight shades, flamboyant yet rootsy attire, a 100 megawatt smile and a compelling stage presence, complemented the mellow baritone vocals of legendary singer, The Honourable Fredrick Nathaniel ‘Toots” Hibbert O.J., product of Jamaica (of course).
He was gifted to us on December 8, 1942. The May Pen, Clarendon native who was the last of seven children spent his life in music as a singer, songwriter, bandleader and musician. He started out in church singing gospel music, later on ska, rocksteady, reggae and roots reggae were the genres under which he focused his musical talents.
He and his band known as the Maytals rocketed onto the scene in the 1960s when they rocked the airwaves with songs like Pressure Drop and Monkey Man.
His ambition to become a performer was evident at school too where he said he was complimented for his vocals by one of his teachers.
After the passing of his parents three years apart he came to Funky Kingston and lived with an older sibling (John) and eventually became a barber.
How does a barber become a mega star though? During his time as a barber he became friends with Jerry Matthius and Raleigh Gordon.
They were subsequently discovered by Clement “Coxsone” Dodd and he signed them to Studio One.
This was the commencement of Toots and The Maytals. Fever, Bam Bam, and Sweet and Dandy followed.
Of note, the band holds the record of most number one songs in Jamaica with 31 chart toppers.
I suppose Toots Hibbert would have been a great barber but we can be happier today that he made his contribution to Jamaica and the world through his fantastic musical talent.
Gears shifted into overdrive after a slight hick-up in 1967 when he was sentenced to jail for marijuana possession.
His adversity became his triumph and 54-46 (That’s My Number) a direct reference to his prison number, tells the story.
From this song much of the outside world (particularly the UK) got a chance to Do the Reggay. Toots being credited with the coining of the name which identified the genre of now known as reggae when this particular song was released in 1968.
Evidently Toots had heart and not much Pomps and Pride (1972) although he and his band recorded with the likes of Shaggy, Ziggy Marley, Eric Claypton and Willie Nelson among other notables and opened for the Rolling Stones on several occasions as well as The Whos (in 1975).
I can say this because in May 2013 he was injured after a vodka bottle was thrown on stage by an enthusiastic fan.
Despite being concussed, having to receive 6 staples to his head, and cancelling the remaining tour appearances, Toots showed heart by writing to the judge to be lenient in his sentencing of the individual citing that prison can be tough.
Although initially traumatized, the Got to be Tough singer overcame his fears of performing in public and returned to the stage three years later.
It is a wonder, a perfect ponder why some things don’t go the way we planned. After all, 2020 was planned as a full year for the reggae legend who had tours slated for England, other parts of Europe and the United States. He was calling us to Rise Up Jamaicans in the Festival song Competition where he started in 1966.
Full circle if you ask me, although not a winner; this time he was placed in the to 10. To top it all off he released what is now his final album Got to be Tough on August 28, 2020.
Fate intervened on Friday September 11, 2020 at 10:35 pm Fredrick Nathaniel ‘Toots” Hibbert, the three-time festival song winner, passed on after being hospitalized with respiratory challenges and being placed in a medically induced coma. He was awaiting COVID19 test results.
The Government of Jamaica, Jamaicans from all walks of life, the diaspora and even celebrated international megastars paid homage to the life and work of this Jamaican treasure. Here are a few snapshots.
The Minister of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sports, Ms. Olivia Grange speaking on behalf of the government stated that, “Jamaica is grateful for his life and work and the contribution he made to the development of Reggae music.”
For Anthony Miller, a highly respected entertainment journalist and a hard hitting, super-tough judge on Digicel Rising Stars, Toots was a “Reggae superhero”, he expressed that he “Rated the musician but was fonder of the man”, Miller also praised Toots’ “voice”, “moves” and “the uniqueness of his talent.”
The part that really struck me was the unemotional Miller’s confession that he, "can’t stop crying."
Mick Jagger, a founding member of the Rolling Stones expressed that Toots had a “powerful voice and on stage, he always gave the audience his Total energy.” He described Toots’ passing as a “sad loss to the music world.”
Of course Toots and the Maytals opened for the Rolling Stones in their Bigger Bang Tour.
Ziggy Marley who remembered Toots as a “father figure” with a “genuine nature” stated that he was “fully in sorrow” at Toots’ passing.
Others labeled Toots Hibbert as a “pioneer”, “legend”, “giant”, “great singer” and a “great stage performer.”
The Jamaica Cultural Development Commission (JCDC), who is responsible for the preservation of our culture, declared that “Young people need to study Toots.”
Toots and the Maytals received their highest professional accolade in 2005 when they were awarded a Grammy for their album titled True Love. They have a total of 5 nominations.
Having been awarded the Order of Jamaica in 2012 Toots became the Honourable Fredrick Nathaniel ‘Toots’ Hibbert O.J.
His wife of 39 years and his 7 surviving children can be comforted by the fact that his words and works will surely echo across future generations.
After 77 Sweet and Dandy years we reluctantly say goodbye to the Nyah Man. It would be good if we could respond to his plea and “Rise Up Jamaicans, stand up and take a stand, we are all God’s people, we should live as one”.
See Also: Did Reggae Music Originated In Jamaica?
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