by Howard Campbell
KINGSTON, Jamaica – Frederick “Toots” Hibbert, the soulful singer who is said to have given reggae its name, died here Friday at the University Hospital of the West Indies.
His publicist, Claude Mills, told South Florida Caribbean News that Toots’ manager Cabel Stephenson confirmed his death.
Toots, 77, was admitted to hospital on August 31 after reportedly suffering respiratory problems. He was placed in a medically-induced coma last week, which sparked widespread rumours of his death.
At press time, no cause of death was given.
“It’s hard because we all loved Daddy. We just wanted more time,” said his daughter, Jenieve.
Born Frederick Hibbert in Clarendon parish, central Jamaica, Toots started his career in the early 1960’s as leader of The Maytals, a trio that also included Henry “Raleigh” Gordon and Nathaniel “Jerry” Matthias.
They had ska hits for producer Clement “Coxson” Dodd but also recorded for Chinese-Jamaican producers Byron Lee and Leslie Kong.
Lee produced Bam Bam, the song that won the inaugural Festival Song Competition in 1966. Hibbert and The Maytals won that contest three times.
Their greatest success came with Kong who Hibbert described in a 2014 interview as “the fairest person I worked with.” Kong produced Judge Not, Bob Marley’s first song, and many of Jimmy Cliff’s hit songs.
His Beverley’s Records produced 54-46, Pressure Drop and Sweet And Dandy, songs that helped make Toots and The Maytals world-famous.
Kong also produced Do The Reggay, the 1968 song that some musicologists believe gave a genre its identity.
Last year, in an interview with this writer, Toots spoke about his role in the origin of reggae.
“I don’t brag about myself, people call me great, but I don’t like to talk about myself. People around the world know is we [The Maytals] create the word reggae. So is time people in Jamaica tek stock an’ do the same,” he said.
Kong died from a heart attack in 1971 at age 37.
The last 20 years saw Toots collaboraing with high-profile admirers including Paul Simon, Eric Clapton, Willie Nelson, Bonnie Raitt and Ben Harper. He won the Grammy Award for Best Reggae Album in 2005 with True Love.
In 2013, while performing at an outdoor festival in Virginia, Toots was struck in the head by a Vodka bottle thrown by a fan.
The injury caused him to take an extended break from touring. Three years later, he settled with promoters of the event, whom he had sued, for an undisclosed sum of money.
William Connor Lewis, the fan who threw the bottle, received a six-month jail sentence.
Since his return to the stage in 2016, Toots maintained a steady tour schedule of festivals and private shows, mainly in Europe and North America.