Toots & The Maytals: Funky Kingston

Singer-songwriter for Toots & The Maytals, multi-instrumentalist and reggae pioneer Frederick “Toots” Hibbert has passed away in Kingston, Jamaica—the birthplace of the music he helped create. His 1968 song “Do The Reggay” remains widely believed to be the first to namecheck reggae (at the time a fledgling genre influenced by mento—Jamaican folk music that combines elements from Africa and Europe—as well as jazz and R&B, calypso, ska and rocksteady). Hibbert’s parents were preachers and he grew up singing at church before meeting future bandmates Nathaniel “Jerry” Matthias and Henry “Raleigh” Gordon at a barbershop in Kingston in the early ’60s. Known as The Maytals, the trio released ska music and won the 1966 Jamaica Festival Song Competition for “Bam Bam.” After an 18-month prison sentence for marijuana possession, Hibbert returned and wrote “54-46 (That’s My Number)” about his time incarcerated. It became one of the first reggae songs to garner attention and affection outside Jamaica. On 1975’s “Funky Kingston,” his sometimes gritty, always striking voice—tinged with elements of gospel, soul and R&B—calls out his message: “Music is what I’ve got to give, and I’ve got to find some way to make it… Funky Kingston is what I’ve got for you.” He leaves behind an undeniably influential, special and joyful legacy.