The passing on 9/11 this year of reggae legend Toots Hibbert, born Frederick Nathaniel Hibbert, sent shock waves through the music world. His death was reported by international networks and publications like NBC TV, Rolling Stone, TMZ, The New York Times, Variety Magazine, USA Today, LA Times, Mirror, Fox News, ABC, CNN, BBC, among others.
Hibbert, one of the titans of Jamaican ska and the man credited with using the word ‘reggay’ in a song, was no stranger to the spotlight. Over the course of his decorated career, he worked with musicians including John Lennon, Willie Nelson, Eric Clapton and other rock stars. True Love, a 2004 Grammy-winning tribute album dedicated to him, featured cameos by No Doubt, Keith Richards, Bonnie Raitt, Ryan Adams and Jeff Beck.
The Bam Bam singer was loved, not just by those in the music fraternity but celebrities like former president of the United States, Barack Obama, who included Toots’ hit single 54-46 (That’s My Number) on his 2019 summer playlist that was blasted to his 24.1 million Instagram followers. 54-46, which was originally released on Beverley’s Records label in 1968, has been anthologised repeatedly and recounted the 18 months Toots was jailed in Jamaica for marijuana possession. To show his gratitude for the Obama big up, Toots posted on Facebook, “Thrilled to be included in Barack Obama’s summer playlist!”
Radio host, Richard ‘Richie B’ Burgess, who has toured numerous times as an MC for Toots, remembered the reggae giant fondly. It was just two weeks ago that Burgess hosted three live performances that were recorded and are scheduled to air on US network television (one for the Tonight Show starring Jim Fallon on NBC ) as part of the promotion for his current album, Got To Be Tough. He shared with The Gleaner an anecdote about a riveting 2012 performance at the O2 Arena in London, England, where Toots was the headliner.
“It was a fantastic performance by Toots, and of note was the number of celebrities who had come to see him,” he shared.
“Having done the introduction and Toots is out there doing his thing, I am backstage and I am noticing this white girl … she was behaving like she was going out of her mind, especially when Toots delved into Monkey Man and Pressure Drop. I got curious and approached her and said ‘Hi, you seem to be really enjoying Toots’ performance.’ She said, ‘Oh yes. I love him. I am here from America and once I got here (London) and heard that he was performing, I just had to make it’.”
Burgess said he introduced himself and to his surprise, the woman said “My name is Jenna Bush, President (George) Bush’s daughter. I am one of Toots’ biggest fans.”
Jenna is the current co-host of Today with Hoda & Jenna which airs on NBC TV in the USA.
Actor and comedian Bill Cosby is also a long-time fan as well.
“Bill Cosby … had a great talk with him the other day … beautiful man … can’t wait to meet him in person,” Toots posted on social media in 2012. The conversation reportedly came after Cosby posted a five-minute YouTube video that heaped accolades and praises on Toots. “I am Bill Cosby and I wanted to say something personally. There is a man (Toots) that is in a band. I just love him, his music, his feel,” Cosby stated on the YouTube clip.
Even United States President Donald Trump, who has been repeatedly accused of racist and bigoted remarks on the 2020 campaign trail, and his daughter Ivanka admired Toots. Their paths unexpectedly crossed in 2004, when Trump made a guest appearance as host on Saturday Night Live and Toots was booked as a performer. In his book Think Like a Billionaire, Trump recalled hearing the Maytals rehearse: “My daughter Ivanka had told me how great they were, and she was right. The music relaxed me, and surprisingly, I was not nervous.”
Among the biggest songs Toots has recorded over his career, which spanned six decades, were Pressure Drop, Take Me Home Country Road, Monkey Man, Do The Reggay and Funky Kingston. On August 28, he released Got To Be Tough, featuring a cameo by Bob Marley’s eldest son Ziggy Marley and contributions from riddim twin Sly Dunbar, Ringo Starr and percussionist Cyril Neville. He won the festival song three times with songs Bam Bam in 1966; Sweet and Dandy in 1969; and Pomps & Pride in 1972. In 2010, he was ranked by Rolling Stone magazine as one of the ‘100 Greatest Singers of All Time’ and in 2012 he was conferred with the Order of Jamaica, the country’s fifth highest honour. Toots passed away peacefully at the University Hospital of the West Indies in Kingston at age 77 after being in a medically induced coma for over a week.