meta-scriptHow 'The Harder They Come' Brought Reggae To The World: A Song By Song Soundtrack Breakdown |
The Harder They Come Soundtrack At 50 window display
Window display for Jimmy Cliff's 'The Harder They Come' in London, 1972

Photo: Brian Cooke/Redferns


How 'The Harder They Come' Brought Reggae To The World: A Song By Song Soundtrack Breakdown

Fifty years after the breakthrough Jamaican film was released in the U.S., breaks down the impact of its star-studded soundtrack — including songs by Jimmy Cliff, the Melodians and Toots and the Maytals.

GRAMMYs/Apr 17, 2023 - 06:56 pm

Half a century after its release, the breakthrough 1972 film The Harder They Come remains remarkable for its unfiltered depiction of Jamaica, its people, their speech and their music. 

Produced and directed by the late Perry Henzell, The Harder They Come was the first movie made in Jamaica by an entirely Jamaican cast and crew, premiering in Kingston to an enormous, riotous crowd. When the film opened in the States in early ‘73, it introduced American audiences to rocksteady, reggae, Rastafari and conditions on the island beyond the tranquil images shown in travel brochures. 

The Harder They Come was a star-making vehicle for a two-time GRAMMY winner and Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee Jimmy Cliff, who portrays Ivanhoe Martin — a character loosely based on the outlaw/folk hero Rhygin who became Jamaica’s most wanted in 1948 after escaping from prison; Rhygin committed a series of robberies and murders before he was gunned down by police. In the film, Ivan is also an aspiring reggae singer and low-level ganja dealer whose endeavors are met with sabotage and betrayals.

Cliff’s portrayal is riveting and authentic. Born James Chambers in a rural community outside of Montego Bay, Cliff lived in the overcrowded, impoverished communities of west Kingston in his early teens. While pursuing a career as a singer, Cliff saw firsthand the crime, violence and the survival of the fittest mindset within the ghetto areas where reggae was birthed.

"That film was the first of its kind, a masterpiece, almost like a documentary with Perry depicting what he saw going on in Jamaica, and what I saw in the ghetto," Jimmy Cliff told me in a 2017 interview following a performance at his alma mater, the Somerton All Age and Infant School. The Harder They Come delineated the glaring contrasts between the island’s elites and the poor Black masses dwelling in overcrowded, squalid tenement yards, the corruption within the island’s music industry, the police force’s control of the ganja trade and their power to ban songs when they want to defeat the message or in the case of Ivan, the messenger.  

The Harder They Come is also notable for the many Jamaican music personalities that appear in brief roles. Former policeman turned rocksteady producer Duke Reid portrays, naturally, a police commissioner; artist/producer and ska icon Prince Buster plays a club selector; popular radio personality Don Topping a.k.a. El Numero Uno appears as himself. Leslie Kong — who produced the majority of the tracks on The Harder They Come soundtrack — is the sound engineer working alongside Hilton, the unscrupulous producer.  (In 1962, a teenaged Cliff persuaded Kong and his brothers to venture into recording, which yielded Cliff’s breakthrough hits "Hurricane Hattie" and "Miss Jamaica," for the Kongs’ Beverley’s Records label.) 

The film’s messaging was underscored by rocksteady and reggae music. While a few hits by Jamaican artists had already reached topped charts — among them Millie Small’s ska ditty "My Boy Lollipop" climbed to No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100; Desmond Dekker’s "Israelites" topped the UK charts and peaked at No. 9 in the U.S. and Dave and Ansell Collins’ cheerful, primarily instrumental track, "Monkey Spanner" was also a UK No. 1. — "those songs were seen as novelties, especially in America," Cliff continued.

"The Harder They Come put the audio together with the visuals of where the music comes from, the people who make it; it showed the music’s identity," said Cliff, whose international hits prior to the film include "Hard Road to Travel" — the film’s working title. "My character Ivan was a rebel and back then, in universities in America and in England, the youths were rebellious, too, so the movie and the music came at the right time and had a huge impact, it opened up the international market."

The Harder They Come soundtrack  initially appeared in U.S. stores in February 1973 (released on Mango/Island) two months before the release of the Wailers’ seminal Catch a Fire but didn’t reach the Billboard Top 200 until 1975. Music chart metrics, however, don’t wholly reflect the impact of the soundtrack or the film. In 1973, The Harder They Come played for 26 weeks at the Orson Welles Cinema in Cambridge, Ma., then returned  in 1974, where it remained a midnight attraction for an additional seven years. At Manhattan’s Elgin Theater, the film was shown at midnight for 80 consecutive weekends. Besides the incidental use of reggae and rocksteady tunes  to enhance many pivotal moments, the compelling scenes featuring Toots and the Maytals and Jimmy Cliff performing their songs, also elevated the profile of Jamaica’s sounds.

The Harder They Come soundtrack has topped many critics’ best albums lists over the years; in 2022 the soundtrack was selected for preservation by the National Recording Registry at the Library of Congress —the second reggae release to earn that distinction.   

"When Perry did The Harder They Come, no one understood Jamaican English, nobody understood reggae or knew what Jamaica really was like," comments Justine Henzell, the director's eldest child. "Perry wasn’t trying to make a movie for everyone; because it was so authentically Jamaican, he found a sweet spot between being culturally specific and universally accessible. He didn’t even know he was doing that 50 years ago but that’s what every filmmaker is looking for because audiences want to be taken into a new world, have a new experience, a cinematic journey."

The Harder They Come’s musical journey begins with "You Can Get It If You Really Want," produced by Leslie Kong, one of four songs written and sung by Cliff in the film. In the opening scene, Ivan is traveling on a rickety, crowded country bus that’s making its way through wet, mountainous roads en route to the capital city, Kingston. Over a fluttering reggae beat, Cliff’s crystalline vocals deliver lyrics that reinforce his character’s determination to make it as a singer: "You can get it if you really want but you must try, try and try, try and try, you’ll succeed at last." 

Cliff initially released "You Can Get It If You Really Want," in July 1970; Desmond Dekker’s rendition of the song reached No.  2 on the UK charts shortly thereafter and Cliff re-recorded the song for the film/soundtrack.

Ivan steps off of the bus on a busy Kingston street, and within minutes, a pushcart vendor runs away with all of his possessions, including the mango he brought for his mother. Playing underneath the chase scene is Scotty’s "Draw Your Brakes," an adaptation of the 1965 jaunty ska hit, "Stop That Train," by the Spanishtown Ska Beats (also known as the Spanishtonians), produced by Prince Buster. The song incorporates the vocals from Keith and Tex’s 1976 cover of "Stop That Train," while Scotty’s expressive patois lyrics provide a livelier take on the original’s theme of a lover’s betrayal. 

Vocal trio the Melodians had a No. 1 hit in Jamaica in 1970 with the exquisite "Rivers of Babylon"; the song’s verses reference Psalm 137 and its bridge quotes Psalm 19, drawing parallels between the Biblical exile of the Israelites in Babylon and the oppression suffered by poor Black Jamaicans. The song is first heard when Ivan arrives in Kingston to break the news to his mother that her mother has died. Ivan also reveals he wants to remain in the city but his mother tells him he should return to the country because she lacks the resources to help him. 

"Rivers of Babylon" spoke to the issues faced by Rastafarians, whose lifestyle — including their worship of Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie I as Lord and Savior — was much maligned at the time and their settlements intermittently razed by authorities. Rastafarians use the word Babylon to identify police or any system they deem oppressive. 

Upon its release, "Rivers of Babylon" was banned from airplay in Jamaica: the authorities considered the song’s direct references to Rastafari "subversive." Producer Leslie Kong challenged the embargo, saying the lyrics paralleled the scriptures recited in the island’s churches on Sundays; the ban was lifted, and the song soared to the top of local charts. Artists as diverse as Willie Nelson and Sublime have covered "Rivers of Babylon," while a 1978 disco rendition by Germany’s Boney M topped the UK charts for five weeks and cracked the U.S. top 40.

The Slickers — brothers Derrick and Sydney Crooks, Winston Bailey, Roy Beckford and Abraham Green — recorded "Johnny Too Bad" in 1970 for producer Byron Lee; here, their voices are complemented by a bubbling reggae beat, and dynamic organ riffs, said to be played by the late Winston Wright. The narrative of "Johnny Too Bad" corresponds with Ivan’s transformation from impetuous rude boy to hardened criminal, and is heard when as the Slickers croon: "Walking down the road with a pistol in your waist, Johnny you’re too bad…you’re just robbing and stabbing and looting and shooting, now you’re too bad." 

In the film, the song plays from a radio as Ivan is doing small repair jobs for Preacher, who has taken him in. Wearing a bright yellow hat tilted to one side Ivan’s coworker Longa tells him, "yuh really look like Johnny too bad," meaning Ivan has the demeanor of a tough guy, a rude boy, "but you gotta have a gun to look like Johnny." Ivan does indeed get a gun, but before that, he slashes Longa’s face in a fight over a stolen bicycle.

On the run from the authorities, Ivan, nonetheless, wants his photo in the Jamaica Gleaner newspaper. He arrives for a photo session attired in '70s gangster chic: leopard print shirt, black vinyl vest, striped pants, a white cap and a gun in each hand. Underpinning the scene is Desmond Dekker and the Aces' quintessential rude boy anthem "007 (Shanty Town)," another Leslie Kong production

Initially released in 1967, "007 (Shanty Town)" became Dekker’s first international hit, reaching No. 14 on the UK singles chart. The song begins with the chiming guitar chords of Nearlin "Lyn" Taitt (the late Trinidad born guitarist considered an architect in the development of Jamaica’s rocksteady beat) which gives way to an irresistibly easy-skanking rocksteady rhythm. "007 (Shanty Town)" references 1960s movies popular with rude boys (Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack’s Ocean’s Eleven, James Bond’s 007) and offers details of their pursuits in the notorious west Kingston ghettos called shanty towns: "dem a loot, dem a shoot, dem a wail, a shanty town."

The despair heard in the epic "Many Rivers to Cross" as Ivan contemplates "committing some dreadful crime" foreshadows his sinister actions in the film. However, Cliff wrote the gospel flavored ballad when he returned to Jamaica after four years of living in England (he references traveling over "the white cliffs of Dover"), frustrated because he didn’t achieve the success he envisioned there. "I've been licked, washed up for years," he wails, "and I merely survive because of my pride." 

The song’s ecclesiastical organ chords provide a somber feel that underscores a scene where Ivan is rejected for work at a construction site, then sneered at by a wealthy woman sitting on her patio as he looks for any odd job as a means of survival. These interactions illustrate the condescending views of the powerful towards the powerless — a segmentation between wealthy uptown and indigent downtown that still exists in Kingston and cities throughout the world.  Cliff’s heartrending vocals on "Many Rivers to Cross" are a stunning tour de force, arguably the finest performance on the soundtrack album.

As the authorities close in on Ivan for killing three policemen, the soul searching "Sitting In Limbo" plays as he spends time with his girlfriend Elsa, his Rasta bredren Pedro and Pedro’s young son Rupert before his attempted escape to Cuba. The song’s lyrics, ideally suited to Ivan’s very uncertain future, were written and recorded by Cliff before filming began. 

After he left England, Cliff returned to Jamaica, where he says he was almost regarded as a foreigner, which, understandably, induced a sense of limbo. He finished writing the song in Argentina working alongside Panamanian singer/songwriter Guilly Bright, pondering what lay ahead: "I can't say what life will show me, but I know what I've seen/ I can't say where life will lead me, but I know where I've been, tried my hand at love and friendship, but all that is past and gone, this little boy is moving on." 

Recorded in New York City with session players from Muscle Shoals, Alabama (heard on hits by Percy Sledge, Wilson Pickett and Aretha Franklin) the ballad’s gentle rhythm builds to a triumphant orchestration of layered keyboards, blasts of brass, flutes and resonant backing vocals, the sonic equivalent of Ivan’s delight in finally having an escape plan, however it works out.

The Maytals contributed two outstanding songs to the soundtrack, each exemplifying the singular, soulful talent that was the late Frederick "Toots" Hibbert and the tight knit, soaring harmonies of Henry "Raleigh" Gordon and Nathaniel "Jerry" McCarthy.  "Pressure Drop" is a gospel-infused, cautionary tale about karmic retribution towards wrongdoers that’s simply phrased but yields hypnotic effects. The track plays as Ivan and José, his boss in the ganja trade, engage in a daylight shootout after Ivan realizes José has snitched and sent the police after him. 

"Sweet and Dandy" is a spirited depiction of a rural wedding set to a rollicking mento rhythm. In the film, Toots and The Maytals are seen inside Byron Lee’s Dynamic Sounds studio recording the song; at the controls of the session are Hilton and Leslie Kong (who produced both Maytals’ songs). Ivan arrives at the studio and is transfixed watching them, which solidifies his ambition to make his own record.

At Dynamic Sound studios Ivan/Cliff lays down, live, the first recorded version of "The Harder They Come," backed by some of Jamaica’s finest: Gladstone Anderson (piano), Winston Wright (organ), Winston Grennan (drums), Linford "Hux" Brown (lead guitar), Ranford "Ranny Bop" Williams (rhythm guitar) and Clifton "Jackie" Jackson (bass), with Kong and Hilton at the controls. Wearing the now iconic blue shirt with a six-point yellow star, a cigarette in hand, Cliff is absolutely captivating as he intermittently throws his head back and absorbs the pulsating reggae beat that drives his spectacular, nuanced vocals. 

The song’s lyrics perfectly suit the movie’s storyline but also rebel against the religious teachings Cliff was brought up with: "Well, they tell me of a pie up in the sky, waiting for me when I die; but between the day you’re born and when you die, they never seem to hear even your cry." 

After delivering his breathtaking performance, Hilton offers Ivan just $20 for the song; like the other injustices Ivan has faced, this sets him on a path to "get my share now, what’s mine." 

In 1971, prior to the release of The Harder They Come, Leslie Kong, 37, suffered a fatal heart attack. Cliff and Kong’s scene in the studio together represents a full circle moment in their careers as Cliff records the title track to what is arguably, the most influential project in reggae’s trajectory over the past 50 years.  

In observance of the film’s golden anniversary in Jamaica, Justine Henzell curated a multi-media art exhibition inspired by the film at her former home, where many of the film’s scenes were shot and edited. In February 2023, several of those art pieces were exhibited in the lobby of New York City’s Public Theater, coinciding with their presentation of a musical adaptation of "The Harder They Come," written by Pulitzer winner Suzan-Lori Parks. 

While Parks’ revisions to Henzell’s screenplay (co-written with the late Trevor Rhone) sanitize Ivan and his criminal exploits, diminishing the grit that’s so essential to the film’s story arc, the musical performances are anchored in the film's 10 song soundtrack — further proof that the  the original The Harder They Come remains a glorious document of the power of Jamaican music.

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Coxsone Dodd in his studio circa 1980 color
Coxsone Dodd circa 1980

Photo: David Corio/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images


Remembering Coxsone Dodd: 10 Essential Productions From The Architect Of Jamaican Music

Regarded as Jamaica’s Motown, Coxsone Dodd's Studio One helped launch the careers of legends such as Burning Spear, Toots and the Maytals, and the Wailers. In honor of the 20th anniversary of Dodd’s passing, learn about 10 of his greatest productions.

GRAMMYs/May 3, 2024 - 02:17 pm

On April 30, 2004, producer Clement Seymour "Sir Coxsone" Dodd — an architect in the construction of Jamaica’s recording industry — was honored at a festive street renaming ceremony on Brentford Road in Kingston, Jamaica. The bustling, commercial thoroughfare at the geographical center of Kingston was rechristened Studio One Blvd. in recognition of Coxsone’s recording studio and record label.

Dodd is said to have acquired a former nightclub at 13 Brentford Road in 1962; his father, a construction worker, helped him transform the building  into the landmark studio. In 1963 Dodd installed a one-track board and began recording and issuing records on the Studio One label. 

Dodd’s Studio One was Jamaica’s first Black-owned recording facility and is regarded as Jamaica’s Motown because of its consistent output of hit records. Studio One releases helped launch the careers of numerous ska, rocksteady and reggae legends including Bob Andy,  Dennis Brown, Burning Spear, Alton Ellis, the Gladiators, the Skatalites, Toots and the Maytals, Marcia Griffiths, Sugar Minott, Delroy Wilson and most notably, the Wailers.

At the street renaming ceremony, a jazz band played, speeches were given in tribute to Dodd’s immeasurable contributions to Jamaican music and many heartfelt memories from the studio’s heyday were shared. In the culmination of the late afternoon program, Dodd, his wife Norma, and Kingston’s then mayor Desmond McKenzie unveiled the first sign bearing the name Studio One Blvd. Four days later, on April 4, 2002, Coxsone Dodd suffered a fatal heart attack at Studio One. His productions, however, live on as benchmarks within the island’s voluminous and influential music canon.

Born Clement Seymour Dodd on Jan. 26, 1932, he was given the nickname Sir Coxsone after the star British cricketer whose batting skills Clement was said to match. As a teenager, Dodd developed a fondness for jazz and bebop that he heard beamed into Jamaica from stations in Miami and Nashville and the big band dances he attended in Kingston. Dodd launched Sir Coxsone’s Downbeat sound system around 1952 with the impressive collection of R&B and jazz discs he amassed while living in the U.S., working as a seasonal farm laborer.

Many sound system proprietors traveled to the U.S. to purchase R&B records — the preferred music among their dance patrons and key to a sound system’s following and trumping an opponent in a sound clash. With the birth of rock and roll in the mid-1950s, suitable R&B records became scarce. Jamaica’s ever-resourceful sound men ventured into Kingston studios to produce R&B shuffle recordings for sound system play. 

Recognizing there was a wider market for this music, Dodd pressed up a few hundred copies of two sound system favorites for general release, the instrumental "Shuffling Jug" by bassist Cluett Johnson and his Blues Blasters and singer/pianist Theophilus Beckford’s "Easy Snapping," both issued on Dodd’s first label, Worldisc. (Some historians recognize "Easy Snapping" as a bridge between R&B shuffle and the island’s Indigenous ska beat; others cite it as the first ska record.) When those discs sold out within a few days, other soundmen followed Dodd’s lead and Jamaica’s commercial recording industry began to flourish.

"Before then, the only stuff released commercially were mento records that were recorded here, but our sound really hit so we kept on recording. When I heard 'Easy Snapping,' I said 'Oh my gosh!'" Coxsone recalled in a 2002 interview for Air Jamaica's Skywritings at Kiingston’s Studio One. "I thank God for that moment." 

Dodd was the first producer to enlist a house band, pay them a weekly salary rather than per record. Together, they had an impressive run of hits in the ska era in the early ‘60s; during the rocksteady period later in the decade, Dodd ceded top ranking status to long standing sound system rival (but close family friend) turned producer Duke Reid. (Still, Studio One released the most enduring instrumentals or rhythm tracks, also known as riddims, of the period.)  As rocksteady morphed into reggae circa 1968, Dodd triumphed again with consistent releases of exceptional quality. 

In 1979 armed robbers targeted the Brentford Rd premises several times. Dodd left Jamaica and established Coxsone’s Music City record store/recording studio in Brooklyn, dividing his time between New York and Kingston. Reissues of Dodd’s music via Cambridge, MA based Heartbeat Records, beginning in the mid 1980s, followed by London’s Soul Jazz label in the 2000s, and most recently Yep Roc Records in Hillsborough, NC, have helped introduce Studio One’s masterful work to new generations of fans. 

"The best time I’ve ever had was when I acquired my studio at 13 Brentford Rd. because you can do as many takes until we figured that was it," Coxsone reflected in the 2002 interview. "God gave me a gift of having the musicians inside the studio to put the songs together. In the studio, I always thought about the fans, making the music more pleasing for listening or dancing. What really helped me was having the sound system, you play a record, and you weren’t guessing what you were doing, you saw what you were doing." 

To commemorate the 20th anniversary of Coxsone Dodd’s passing, read on for a list of 10 of his greatest productions.

The Maytals - "Six and Seven Books of Moses" (1963)

In 1961 at the dawn of Jamaica’s ska era, Toots Hibbert met singers Nathaniel "Jerry" Matthias and Henry "Raleigh" Gordon and they formed the Maytals. The trio released several hits for Dodd including the rousing, "Six and Seven Books of Moses," a gospel-drenched ska track that’s essentially a shout out of a few Old Testament chapters. 

Moses is credited with writing five chapters, as the lyrics state, "Genesis and Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers Deuteronomy," but "the Six and Seven books" are in question. Many Biblical scholars say Moses wasn’t the scribe, believing those chapters, including phony spells and incantations to keep evil spirits away, were penned in the 18th or 19th century. 

Nevertheless, there’s a real magic formula in The Maytals’ "Six and Seven Books of Moses": Toots’ electrifying preacher at the pulpit delivery melds with elements of vintage soul, gritty R&B, and classic country; Jerry and Raleigh provide exuberant backing vocals and seminal ska outfit and Studio One’s first house band, the Skatalities deliver an irresistible, jaunty ska rhythm with a sophisticated jazz underpinning. 

The Wailers - "Simmer Down" (1964)

A flashback scene in the biopic Bob Marley: One Love depicts the Wailers (then a teenaged outfit called the Juveniles) approaching Dodd for a recording opportunity; Dodd inexplicably points a gun at them as they recoil in terror. Yet, there isn’t any mention of such an inappropriate and unprovoked action from the producer in the various books, documentaries, interviews and other accounts of the Wailers’ audition for Dodd. 

The Wailers’ first recording session with Dodd in July 1964, however, yielded the group’s first hit single "Simmer Down." At that time, the Wailers lineup consisted of founding members Bob Marley, Bunny Livingston (later Wailer) and Peter Tosh alongside singers Junior Braithwaite and (the sole surviving member) Beverley Kelso. When Junior left for the U.S., Dodd appointed Marley as the group’s lead singer.

The energetic "Simmer Down" cautions the impetuous rude boys to refrain from their hooligan exploits. The Skatalites’ spirited horn led intro, thumping jazz infused bass and fluttering sax solo, enhances Marley’s youthful lead and the backing vocalists’ effervescence. The Wailers would spend two years at Studio One and record over 100 songs there, including the first recording of "One Love" in 1965; by early 1966, they would have five songs produced by Dodd in the Jamaica Top 10. 

Alton Ellis -"I’m Still In Love" (1967)

Jamaica’s brief rocksteady lasted about two years between 1966-1968, but was an exceptionally rich and influential musical era. The rocksteady tempo maintained the accentuated offbeat of its ska predecessor, but its slower pace allowed vocal and musical arrangements, affixed in heavier, more melodic basslines.

Alton Ellis is considered the godfather of rocksteady because he had numerous hits during the era and released "Rock Steady," the first single to utilize the term for producer Duke Reid. Ellis initially worked with Dodd in the late 1950s then returned to him in 1967. The evergreen "I’m Still in Love" was penned by Alton as a plea to his wife as their marriage dissolved: "You don’t know how to love me, or even how to kiss me/I don’t know why."  Supporting Alton’s elegant, soulful rendering of heartbreak, Studio One house band the Soul Vendors, led by keyboardist Jackie Mittoo, provide an engaging horn-drenched rhythm, epitomizing what was so special about this short-lived time in Jamaican music.

"I’m Still In Love" has been covered by various artists including Sean Paul and Sasha, whose rendition reached No. 14 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 2004. Beyoncé utilized Jamaican singer Marcia’s Aitken’s 1978 version of the tune in a TV ad announcing her 2018 On The Run II tour with Jay-Z. In February 2024, Jennifer Lopez sampled "I’m Still in Love" for her single "Can’t Get Enough."

Bob Andy - "I’ve Got to Go Back Home" (1967)

 The late Keith Anderson, known professionally as Bob Andy, arrived at Studio One in 1967. He quickly became a hit-making vocalist, and an invaluable writer for other artists on the label. He penned several hits for Marcia Griffiths including "Feel Like Jumping," "Melody Life" and "Always Together," the latter their first of many hit recordings as a duo. 

A founding member of the vocal trio the Paragons, "I’ve Got to go Back Home" was Andy’s first solo hit and it features sublime backing vocals by the Wailers (Bunny, Peter and Constantine "Vision" Walker; Bob Marley was living in the USA at the time.) Set to a sprightly rock steady beat featuring Bobby Ellis (trumpet), Roland Alphonso (saxophone) and Carlton Samuels’ (saxophone) harmonizing horns, Andy’s lyrics poignantly depict the challenges endured by Jamaica’s poor ("I can’t get no clothes to wear, can’t get no food to eat, I can’t get a job to get bread") while expressing a longing to return to Africa, a central theme within 1970s Rasta roots reggae. 

The depth of Andy’s lyrics expanded the considerations of Jamaican songwriters and one of his primary influences was Bob Dylan. "When I heard Bob Dylan, it occurred to me for the first time that you don’t have to write songs about heart and soul," Andy told Billboard in 2018. "Bob Dylan’s music introduced me to the world of social commentary and that set me on my way as a writer."  

Dawn Penn - "You Don’t Love Me" (1967)

Dawn Penn’s plaintive, almost trancelike vocals and the lilting rock steady arrangement by the Soul Vendors transformed Willie Cobbs’ early R&B hit "You Don’t Love Me," based on Bo Diddley’s 1955 gritty blues lament "She’s Fine, She’s Mine," into a Jamaican classic. The song’s shimmering guitar intro gives way to the forceful drum and bass with Mittoo’s keyboards providing an understated yet essential flourish.

In 1992 Jamaica’s Steely and Clevie remade the song, featuring Penn,  for their album Steely and Clevie Play Studio One Vintage. The dynamic musician/production duo brought their mastery (and 1990s technological innovations) to several Studio One classics with the original singers. Heartbeat released "You Don’t Love Me" as a single and it reached No. 58 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Several artists have reworked Penn’s rendition or sampled the Soul Vendors’ arrangement including rapper Eve on a collaboration with Stephen and Damian Marley. Rihanna recruited Vybz Kartel for an interpretation included on her 2005 debut album Music of the Sun, while Beyoncé performed the song on her I Am world tour in 2014 and recorded it in 2019 for her Homecoming: The Live Album. In 2013, Los Angeles-based Latin soul group the Boogaloo Assassins brought a salsa flavor to Penn's tune, creating a sought-after DJ single. 

The Heptones - "Equal Rights" (1968)


"Every man has an equal right to live and be free/no matter what color, class or race he may be," sings an impassioned Leroy Sibbles on "Equal Rights," the Heptones’ stirring plea for justice.

Harmony vocalist Earl Morgan formed the group with singer Barry Llewellyn in the early '60s and Sibbles joined them a few years later. The swinging bass line, played by Sibbles, anchors a stunning rock steady rhythm track awash in cascading horns, and blistering percussion patterns akin to the akete or buru drums heard at Rastafari Nyabinghi sessions.

Besides leading the Heptones’ numerous hit singles during their five-year stint at Studio One, Sibbles was a talent scout, backing vocalist, resident bassist and the primary arranger, alongside Jackie Mittoo. Sibbles’ progressive basslines are featured on numerous Studio One nuggets (many appearing on this list) and have been sampled or remade countless times over the decades on Jamaican and international hits.

In a December 2023 interview Sibbles echoed a complaint expressed by many who worked at Studio One: Dodd didn’t fairly compensate his artists and the (uncredited) musicians produced the songs while Dodd tended to business matters. "When we started out, we didn’t know about the business, and what happened, happened. But as you learn as you go along," he said. "I have registered what I could; I am living comfortably so I am grateful." 

 The Cables - "Baby Why" (1968)

Formed in 1962 by lead singer Keble Drummond and backing vocalists Vincent Stoddart and Elbert Stewart, the Cables — while not as well-known as the Wailers, the Maytals or the Heptones — recorded a few evergreen hits at Studio One, including the enchanting "Baby Why." 

Keble’s aching vocals lead this breakup tale as he warns the woman who left that she’ll soon regret it. The simple story line is delivered via a gorgeous melody that’s further embellished by Vincent and Elbert’s superb harmonizing, repeatedly cooing to hypnotic effect "why, why oh, why?" 

Coxsone is said to have kept the song for exclusive sound system play for several months; when he finally released it commercially, "Baby Why" stayed at No. 1 for four weeks. 

"Baby Why" is notable for another reason: although the Maytals’ "Do The Reggay" marks the initial use of the word reggae in a song, "Baby Why" is among a handful of songs cited as the first recorded with a reggae rhythm (reggae basslines are fuller and reggae’s tempo is a bit slower than its rocksteady forerunner.) Other contenders for that historic designation include Lee "Scratch Perry’s "People Funny Boy," the Beltones’ "No More Heartache," and Larry Marshall and Alvin Leslie’s delightful "Nanny Goat." 

Burning Spear - "Door Peeper" (1969)

Hailing from the parish of St. Ann, Jamaica, Burning Spear was referred to Studio One by another St. Ann native, Bob Marley. Spear’s first single for Studio One "Door Peeper" (also known as "Door Peep Shall Not Enter") recorded in 1969, sounded unlike any music released by Dodd and was critical in shaping the Rastafarian roots reggae movement of the next decade.

The song’s biblically laced lyrics caution informers who attempt to interfere with Rastafarians, considered societal outcasts at the time in Jamaica, while Spear’s intonation to "chant down Babylon" creates a haunting mystical effect, supported by Rupert Willington’s evocative, deep vocal pitch, a throbbing bass, mesmeric percussion and magnificent horn blasts. 

As Spear told in September 2023, "When Mr. Dodd first heard 'Door Peep' he was astonished; for a man who’d been in the music business for so long, he never heard anything like that." Dodd’s openness to recording Rasta music, and allowing ganja smoking on the premises (but not in the studio) when his competitors didn’t put him in the forefront at the threshold of the roots reggae era.

"Door Peeper" was included on Burning Spear’s debut album, Studio One Presents Burning Spear, released in 1973 and remains a popular selection in the legendary artist’s live sets.

Joseph Hill - "Behold The Land" (1972)

In the October 1946 address Behold The Land by W. E. B. DuBois at the closing session of the Southern Youth Legislature in Columbia, South Carolina, the then 78-year-old celebrated author and activist urges Black youth to fight for racial equality and the civil rights denied them in Southern states. The late Joseph Hill’s 1972 song of the same name, possibly influenced by Dubois’ words, is a powerful reggae missive exploring the atrocities of the transatlantic slave trade from which descended the discriminations DuBois described.

Hill was just 23 when he wrote/recorded "Behold The Land," his debut single as a vocalist. Hill’s haunting timbre summons the harrowing experience with the wisdom and emotional rendering of an ancestor: "For we were brought here in captivity, bound in links and chains and we worked as slaves and they lashed us hard." Hill then gives praise and asks for repatriation to the African motherland, "let us behold the land where we belong."

The Soul Defenders — a self contained entity but also a Studio One house band with whom Hill made his initial recordings as a percussionist — provide a persistent, bass heavy rhythm that suitably frames Hill’s lyrical gravitas, as do the melancholy hi-pitched harmonies.

In 1976 Hill formed the reggae trio Culture and the next year they catapulted to international fame with their apocalyptic single "Two Sevens Clash," which prompted Dodd to finally release "Behold The Land." Culture would re-record "Behold The Land" over the years including for their 1978 album Africa Stand Alone and the song received a digital remastering in 2001.

Sugar Minott - "Oh Mr. DC" (1978)

In the mid-1970s singer Lincoln "Sugar" Minott began writing lyrics to classic 1960s Studio One riddims, an approach that launched his hitmaking solo career and further popularized the practice of riddim recycling — which is still a standard approach in dancehall production. Sugar, formerly with the vocal trio The African Brothers,  penned one of his earliest solo hits "Oh, Mr. DC" to the lively beat of the Tennors’ 1967 single "Pressure and Slide" (itself a riddim originally heard, at a faster pace, underpinning Prince Buster’s 1966 "Shaking Up Orange St.")

"Oh, Mr. DC" is an authentic tale of a ganja dealer returning from the country with his bag of collie (marijuana); the DC (district constable/policeman) says he’s going to arrest him and threatens to shoot if he attempts to run away. Sugar explains to the officer that selling herb is how he supports his family: "The children crying for hunger/ I man a suffer, so you’ve got to see/it’s just collie that feed me." To underscore his urgent plea, Sugar wails in an unforgettable melody, "Oh, oh DC, don’t take my collie." 

The irresistibly bubbling bassline of the riddim nearly obscures the song’s poignant depiction of Jamaica’s harsh economic realities and the potential risk of imprisonment, or worse, that the island’s ganja sellers faced at the time. Sugar’s revival of a Studio One riddim and reutilization of 10 Studio One riddims for each track of his 1977 album Live Loving brought renewed interest to the treasures that could be extracted from Mr. Dodd’s vaults.

Special thanks to Coxsone Dodd’s niece Maxine Stowe, former A&R at Sony/Columbia and Island Records, who started her career at Coxsone’s Music City, Brooklyn.

How 'The Harder They Come' Brought Reggae To The World: A Song By Song Soundtrack Breakdown

Paul Simon Take 6
Paul Simon with Take 6

Photo: Getty Images for the Recording Academy


8 Highlights From "Homeward Bound: A GRAMMY Salute To The Songs Of Paul Simon": Garth Brooks' & Trisha Yearwood's Charming Duet, Stevie Wonder' & Ledisi's Heartwarming Performance & More

Paul Simon's GRAMMYs tribute included moments of vulnerability, generation-straddling duets, and plenty of other surprises. Here are eight highlights from the magical night. The tribute re-airs on Wednesday, May 31, at 9 p.m. ET/PT on CBS.

GRAMMYs/Dec 22, 2022 - 03:51 pm

Updated Monday, May 22, to include information about the re-air date for "Homeward Bound: A GRAMMY Salute To The Songs Of Paul Simon."

"Homeward Bound: A GRAMMY Salute To The Songs Of Paul Simon" will re-air on Wednesday, May 31, at 9 p.m. ET/PT on the CBS Television Network, and will be available to stream live and on demand on Paramount+.

Many tribute shows for legacy artists end in a plume of confetti and a feel-good singalong. But not Paul Simon's.

At the end of the songbook-spanning "Homeward Bound: A GRAMMY Tribute To Paul Simon," the only person on the darkened stage was the man of the hour. Sure, the audience had been baby-driven through the Simon and Garfunkel years, into the solo wilderness, through Graceland, and so forth. But all these roads led to darkness.

Because Simon then played the song that he wrote alone, in a bathroom, after JFK was shot.

It doesn't matter that Simon always ends gigs with "The Sound of Silence." After this commensurately cuddly and incisive tribute show, it was bracing to watch him render his entire career an ouroboros. 

That "The Sound of Silence" felt like such a fitting cap to a night of jubilation speaks to Simon's multitudes. The Jonas Brothers coolly gliding through "50 Ways to Leave Your Lover," juxtaposed with the ache of Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood's "The Boxer," rubbing up against Dave Matthews getting goofy and kinetic with "You Can Call Me Al," and so on and so forth.

The intoxicating jumble of emotions onstage at "Homeward Bound: A GRAMMY Tribute To Paul Simon" did justice to his songbook's emotional landscape — sometimes smooth, other times turbulent, defined by distance and longing as much as intimacy and fraternity.

Here were eight highlights from the telecast — which will re-air on Wednesday, May 31, at 9 p.m. ET/PT on the CBS Television Network, and will be available to stream live and on demand on Paramount+.

Read More: Watch Jonas Brothers, Brad Paisley, Billy Porter, Shaggy & More Discuss The Legacy And Impact Of Paul Simon Backstage At "Homeward Bound: A GRAMMY Salute To Paul Simon"

Woody Harrelson's Lovably Bumbling Speech

After Brad Paisley's rollicking opening with "Kodachrome," the momentum cheekily ground to a halt as Harrelson dove into a rambling, weirdly moving monologue.

"The songs of Paul Simon really are like old friends," the cowboy-hatted "The Hunger Games" star remarked, interpolating one of his song titles and crooning the opening verse.

Harrelson went on to recount a melancholic story from college, where the spiritually unmoored future star clung to Simon songs like a liferaft. We can all relate, Woody.

Garth Brooks & Trisha Yearwood's Pitch-Perfect "The Boxer"

Brooks has always been one of the most humble megastars in the business, praising his wife Trisha Yearwood — and his forebears — a country mile more than his own. (Speaking to, he described being "married to somebody 10 times more talented than you.")

The crack ensemble could have made "The Boxer" into a spectacle and gotten away with it, but Brooks wisely demurred.

Instead, the pair stripped down the proceedings to guitar and two voices; Brooks provided an aching counterpoint to Yearwood.

Billy Porter's Heart-Rending "Loves Me Like A Rock"

The "Pose" star blew the roof off of Joni Mitchell's MusiCares Person Of The Year gala in 2022 with "Both Sides Now," so it was clear he would bring napalm for a Simon party. 

Given the gospel-ish intro, one would think he was about to destroy the universe with "Bridge Over Troubled Water." 

Instead, he picked a song of tremendous personal significance, "Loves Me Like a Rock," and dedicated it to his mother. The universe: destroyed anyway.

Stevie Wonder & Ledisi's "Bridge Over Troubled Water"

The question remained: who would get dibs on the still-astonishing "Bridge Over Troubled Water"? A song of that magnitude is not to be treated lightly.

So the producers gave it to generational genius Wonder, who'd bridged numberless troubled waters with socially conscious masterpieces like Songs in the Key of Life.

But he wouldn't do it alone: R&B great Ledisi brought the vocal pyrotechnics, imbuing "Bridge Over Troubled Water" with the grandiosity it needed to take off.

Jimmy Cliff & Shaggy Brought Jamaican Vibes With "Mother & Child Reunion"

Simon embraced the sounds of South Africa with his 1986 blockbuster Graceland, yet his island connection is criminally underdiscussed; since the '60s, Jamaican artists have enthusiastically covered his songs.

For instance, it's impossible to imagine a "Mother and Child Reunion" not recorded in Kingston, pulsing with the energy of Simon's surroundings.

Enter genre luminaries Jimmy Cliff and Shaggy, who flipped the tribute into a bona fide reggae party.

Take 6 Dug Deep With "Homeless"

Leave it to the Recording Academy to avoid superficiality in these events: Mitchell's aforementioned MusiCares tribute included beyond-deep cuts like "Urge for Going" and "If." 

Most remember "Homeless" as Ladysmith Black Mambazo unaccompanied vocal cooldown after bangers like "You Can Call Me Al"; eight-time GRAMMY-winning vocal group Take 6 did a radiant, affectionate rendition.

When Simon took the stage at the end of the night, he was visibly blown away. Touchingly, he shouted out his late guitarist, Joseph Shabalala, who founded Ladysmith Black Mambazo.

"Imagine a guy born in Ladysmith, South Africa, [who] writes a song in Zulu and it's sung here by an American group, singing his words in his language," Simon remarked. "It would have brought tears to his eyes."

Angélique Kidjo & Dave Matthews' Love Letter To Africa

Graceland was Simon's commercial zenith, so it was only appropriate that it be the energetic apogee of this tribute show.

Doubly so, that this section be helmed by two African artists: Angélique Kidjo, hailing from Benin, and Dave Matthews, born in Johannesburg.

"Under African Skies," which Simon originally sang with Linda Ronstadt is a natural choice — not only simply as a regional ode, but due to its still-evocative melody and poeticism.

"This is the story of how we begin to remember/ This is the powerful pulsing of love in the vein" drew new power from Kidjo's lungs. 

Afterward, Matthews — a quintessential ham — threw his whole body into Simon's wonderful, strange hit, "You Can Call Me Al."

The Master Himself Took The Stage

With his still-gleaming tenor and still-undersung acoustic guitar mastery, Simon brought the night home with "Graceland," a Rhiannon Giddens-assisted "American Tune" and "The Sound of Silence."

At 81, Simon remains a magnetic performer; even though this is something of a stock sequence for when he plays brief one-off sets, it's simply a pleasure to watch the master work.

Then, the sobering conclusion: "Hello darkness, my old friend," Simon sang, stark and weary. With the world's usual litany of darknesses raging outside, he remains the best shepherd through nightmares we've got.

And as the audience beheld Simon, they seemed to silently say: Talk with us again.

15 Essential Tracks By Paul Simon: In A Burst Of Glory, Sound Becomes A Song

Ziggy Marley

Ziggy Marley

Photo: Kristin Burns


Ziggy Marley Talks Working With His Kids On 'More Family Time,' The Joy Of Toots Hibbert & Bob Marley's Revolution

The GRAMMY-winning reggae legend chats about his latest music, an upbeat, collab-rich children's album inspired by—and featuring—his youngest son

GRAMMYs/Oct 6, 2020 - 02:16 am

The rhythms and ethos of reggae very much run through Ziggy Marley's veins. Not only was he born into reggae royalty as one of the sons of the late, great Bob Marley, he has spent most of his life immersed in it. As a young kid, he absorbed it during his father's studio sessions and, not long after, he and his siblings began making it themselves as the Melody Makers.

Back in 1989, Ziggy took home his first GRAMMY, with the Melody Makers, for Best Reggae Recording for Conscious Party. He has since earned eight total GRAMMYs to date and put out eight solo studio albums. Throughout it all, he has continued to spread messages of love, equality and unity through music, as his father did and other members of the Marley clan also continue to do.

And just as his father encouraged him and his siblings to make music, Ziggy's passing the torch to his children. On his latest album, More Family Time, released on on Sept. 18, four of his kids (Gideon, Judah, Abraham and Isaiah) contribute, along with their dog Romeo, Ziggy's brother Stephen Marley and famous friends including Lisa Loeb, Sheryl Crow, Angelique Kidjo, Alanis Morrissette and more. The lively, joyful family album was inspired by the four-year-old Isaiah and is a follow up to 2009's Emmy- and GRAMMY-winning Family Time.

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Read: This Is What We Live: Damian Marley On The 15th Anniversary Of 'Welcome To Jamrock'

We recently chatted with Ziggy to hear about all the magic that went into the album, his memory of the great Toots Hibbert, what his father's legacy means to him and more.

So, you just released more Family Time, which follows 2009's Family Time. What are you hoping that kids and parents experience while listening to this album?

Well, for this one, especially since we're in such a situation, a lot of kids aren't in school and we've been in quarantine with the COVID issue. I just hope this is some relief and some positive energy that the family can enjoy together. This is really simple, that's what it is really.

Can you talk a little bit about how your four-year-old son Isaiah inspired both the "Goo Goo Ga Ga" song and then the project as a whole?

Isaiah, since he was born, he has been around me a lot. Even more than the other kids, he was actually in the studio. And he is on the cover of my last album, Rebellion Rises and he was always in the studio during that album. So, when I'm around him, and you see him, he used to just go on and say "goo goo gaga, goo goo gaga, goo goo gaga." And so, that kicked off the process of me writing. And after that, it just kept going in that direction, so I let it go that way. To make an album for family and children specifically, it's always good to have children around. For me, it's natural. So it was just a part of the inspiration.

Ziggy Marley at home with his family | Photo: Kristin Burns

And both he and some of your other kids sang on a couple of the songs. Was it fun for them? What was it like getting the family involved?

When Isaiah first tried, I was so surprised. He just did it. The song called "Move Your Body," he just did this thing which was incredible to me. I was so amazed. He had so much expression. I was just blown away. I didn't expect him to have fun to do it. So, it's so real, what he did and how he did it. And from all the other kids, I bring them in just like my father would bring me in, I bring us in.

For the older ones, the teenagers, it was tedious because they're teens and they only want to do so much for it. But I made them do it and afterwards they got into it. We enjoyed doing it together. Sometimes they're happy to hear themselves on the record again. My daughter, Judah, is 15. She was the inspiration for the first Family Time album. She was about the same age then as Isaiah is now and she's on the first album also. So, it's just a continuation.

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All of the songs on the album are really fun and joyful, but I really love the upbeat energy of "Move Your Body." And the fact that Tom Morello and Busta Rhymes are on this awesome kid's song, it blows my mind. How did that track come together?

I think that track is the weirdest track on the album, in terms of how it came about, because it started out as something totally different. And as we went along, as Tom added his piece to it, it kind of changed my perspective on it. And then Busta did it, so my whole perspective was actually changing from the original idea as the creative process went along and it morphed into this "Move Your Body" song.

It's just all about moving. It's an energy song to move to, really. There's not a lot of lyrical stuff, "la la lee lee lee la la lo," is actually from the Ethiopian alphabet. So some of the things that I say in that song have meaning to them, but it's okay if you don't know the meaning. It's one of the crazier songs I've done, with Tom and Busta. [Laughs.]

Read: Tom Morello On Storytelling & Rocking Out, Mixed-Race Identity, The 2020 Election & More

When you were making the song, were you like, "I need Tom and Busta on the song?" I'm also curious about the rest of the collaborations and how they all came together.

All of these artists pretty much, I've known for years. Most of them, we'll see each other, we'll talk to each other. Busta Rhymes is an old friend of ours, we've known him for years. Sheryl, Ben [Harper], Angelique, all these people, we have a comradery from working together in the past.

As the album went on and I did each song, each song kind of told me—because I know each individual—who would be good on it. I was like, "Oh, this song sounds like it's a Sheryl Crow sound." When I wrote "Everywhere You Go" the chorus reminded me of one of her songs. I was like, "Oh, Sheryl would be good for that." So each song spoke to me about who would fit in it, and that came from me knowing them and knowing their music.

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You sang "Three Little Birds" with Toots Hibbert on the new Toots and the Maytals album [Got To Be Tough], which came out shortly before he passed away. What does that track and having sang it with him mean to you? And what was one of the biggest things you have learned from Toots?

I feel for me to sing a song with Toots is to understand what Toots brought in, to me it was a great interpretation, but so different and still good. I mean, sometimes you do something different, but this one was really good. I really liked it. We did it a few years ago, actually.

Toots was like a good luck charm. Toots was an angel of joy, he brought joy. He was the type of angel that no matter where you are when they appear, magically everybody's happy. He had that power in him to bring joy and happiness. I don't know anybody like Toots who has that ability, just by his energy, to just bring joy. He was a very unique spirit with a very unique gift. It was unique to him as far as I know, I don't know anybody that's like that.

Watch: Skip Marley Asks Us To "Slow Down" For Press Play

That's beautiful. This year has also brought 75th anniversary celebrations for your dad, Bob Marley. What does his legacy mean to you?

My father was about being a good human, being righteous and just and fearless. And he treated people of all walks of life with respect as human beings. It's not about music, it's about humanity. That is what legacy is. It's much deeper than music, you know? That is how I see it.

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That's so fitting for the time we're in right now. What message do you think he'd have for what's going on in the world right now? Or what is one of his messages you think would most apply right now?

There's a few, especially with what's happening in America and the Black Lives Matter movement here. He was very aware of the oppression of African people and people of African heritage. He had songs like "Blackman Redemption," Africa Unite" and others in that spectrum of it that was a part of a revolutionary movement. And he is that, but he was also on the side of love too. There's "One Love," "Three Little Birds" and stuff like that. So he's the balance.

But right now, in the situation that we are in, I think the tone would be more on the side of "Get Up, Stand Up" and even "Blackman Redemption," because it is important that equality is for everyone. This is something that people have fought for years, and we still have a fight for it today. We still have to stand up and march in the streets for it because inequality and injustice does exist. And I don't think we can just stand by and not put our voices towards it. His messages are a part of that that movement also.

Sometimes people are kind of look over the more revolutionary side of my father, they want to just see the "One Love" and "Three Little Birds" and forget that other side to him. I won't forget that.

What was it like growing up in the Marley family? Did you always know that you would dedicate your life to music? Or did you have other ideas?

I knew I could do anything I wanted to if I put my mind to, but music kind of came upon me because of the inspiration to write songs. If I wasn't inspired to write songs, I wouldn't be doing music. That is the only reason I'm a musician is because, for some reason, I write songs.

I mean, nobody taught me to write songs. I didn't go to school write songs. Nobody told me how to do it, it just happened. It is a gift that was given to me by nature or by whatever forces you want to call it. So, I accepted that gift and I put that gift out there so other people can get something from it too. That is why I do music, I could have done anything, but nature called me towards music. I was skilled, you know.

Part of the proceeds from More Family Time support the U.R.G.E. Foundation you lead in Jamaica. Can you share a little bit about the work that the organization does?

Yeah. I mean we love children. We have a school in Jamaica, and we help with the teachers' salaries, sports equipment and making sure to keep them on a good playground. And then we've also joined with other organizations in other areas. In Los Angeles here, we work with an organization that is an after-school program for underprivileged kids and we help them out also. We do stuff in Mexico too.

It's all children-focused. I think that is the most important part of society—if we can help the children, that is where the world will change. And so, we just focus on that.

Watch: Positive Vibes Only: Kalani Pe'a Whisks Us Away To Hawaii With A Feel-Good Performance Of "E Nā Kini"

Obviously, giving back and being of service is a big part of what you do, so what do you see as the connection between art and service?

Well, art is service. But as an individual person that does art, also outside of my art, even if I wasn't doing art, I would still be who I am. And so, what I do is just something that is in me, regardless of my art. Art in itself is a part of giving, right. I mean, it all depends on the individual. Generalizing, some people's art is for giving and some people's art as for taking. [Laughs.]

We have the art, that's a given, and we are giving individuals also, so it's like two like-minded forces coming together, me as a person and the art, coming together to give. It works in a full circle really, you get full service.

It's kind of the mindset you put in, going into creating your art.

Yeah, who you are goes into your art, right? for me, I don't pretend, my art isn't a pretending thing. I don't sing about things I've pretended to do, pretended to see. What I sing about comes out of my heartis in my art—is in my art.

Unearthing A Lost Ella Fitzgerald Recording, 60 Years Later

Toots Hibbert of Toots And The Maytals performs in London in 1983

Toots Hibbert of Toots And The Maytals performs in London in 1983

Photo: David Corio/Redferns


Toots Hibbert, GRAMMY-Winning Reggae Pioneer And Founder Of Toots And The Maytals, Dies At 77

Considered to be "one of the fathers of reggae music," a genre he helped globalize, Hibbert was the first known artist to use the word "reggae" on a record

GRAMMYs/Sep 13, 2020 - 12:23 am

Frederick "Toots" Hibbert, who pioneered and helped globalize the reggae genre via his iconic, GRAMMY-winning band Toots And The Maytals, died Friday (Sept. 11) evening. He was 77. 

While no cause of death has been revealed, Hibbert was hospitalized in an intensive care unit in his native Jamaica in August after showing symptoms of the coronavirus. While he was awaiting results from a coronavirus test, he was placed in a medically induced coma in early September. "Toots is fighting for his life and his family is asking for prayers," Claude Mills, Hibbert's publicist, told Jamaican daily newspaper The Gleaner.

Toots And The Maytals confirmed the news of Hibbert's passing in a post shared on the band's official social media accounts Friday night, writing, "It is with the heaviest of hearts to announce that Frederick Nathaniel 'Toots' Hibbert passed away peacefully tonight, surrounded by his family at the University Hospital of the West Indies in Kingston, Jamaica.

"The family and his management team would like to thank the medical teams and professionals for their care and diligence, and ask that you respect their privacy during their time of grief," the post continues.

Born Frederick Nathaniel Hibbert in 1942 in May Pen, Jamaica, he is considered "one of the fathers of reggae music" and is the first known artist to use the word "reggae" on a record, The New York Times writes, as heard on his band's, then known as The Maytals, 1968 song, "Do The Reggay."

Recognized as one of the greatest singers of all time by Rolling Stone, Hibbert is known for his powerful, soulful vocal style, which gained him comparisons to soul greats like Otis Redding and Ray Charles. Hibbert is also known for infusing elements of soul music, gospel, R&B, rock 'n' roll and Jamaican mento into Toots And The Maytals' reggae, rocksteady and ska sounds, Rolling Stone writes

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Hibbert formed his band, originally known simply as The Maytals, in Kingston, Jamaica, in 1962 alongside Henry "Raleigh" Gordon and Nathaniel "Jerry" Matthias; the group changed its name to Toots And The Maytals in 1972. 

After becoming a big draw within Jamaica's then-nascent ska scene, the group released its debut album, The Sensational Maytals, in 1965. One year later, they won the first-ever Jamaican Independence Festival Popular Song Competition with their song "Bam Bam," which inspired Sister Nancy's 1982 dancehall classic of the same name; the group would go on to win the national song competition in 1969 and 1972, according to Rolling Stone.

In 1967, Hibbert served a nine-month prison term after he was arrested for possession of marijuana; he alleges he was set up by corrupt authorities or music rivals, according to Pitchfork and Rolling Stone. Inspired by the experience, Hibbert wrote the song "54-46 Was My Number," which became one of his group's biggest songs and their first major hit outside Jamaica, Rolling Stone reports. 

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The group crossed over into international markets with their third album Funky Kingston, which released in Jamaica and the U.K. in 1972; an alternate version of the album, released in the U.S. in 1975, charted stateside on the Billboard 200 and was voted as one of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time by Rolling Stone.

Toots And The Maytals would go on to receive five total GRAMMY nominations in the reggae field, including a GRAMMY win for Best Reggae Album in 2005 for their 2004 album, True Love. Hibbert, who also recorded and performed as a solo artist, received four GRAMMY nominations, including one win for True Love.

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On Aug. 28, just three days before Hibbert was first hospitalized, Toots And The Maytals released Got To Be Tough, his first studio album in a decade and the first LP he produced himself; it now marks the final Toots And The Maytals album. 

Last month, GRAMMY Museum Founding Executive Director Bob Santelli interviewed Hibbert about Got To Be Tough as part of the organization's Programs At Home series.

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Hibbert is survived by his wife of 39 years, Miss D, and his seven of eight children, according to the Toots And The Maytals Twitter account. 

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