Frederick “Toots” Hibbert was born in the rural Jamaican town of May Pen in Clarendon in 1942, the youngest of seven children.
He grew up singing gospel music in a church choir and moved to Kingston in the late 1950s where he met Henry “Raleigh” Gordon and Nathaniel “Jerry” Mathias and formed The Maytals as a ska vocal trio.
The Maytals grew popular in Jamaica with singles such as Hallelujah, Never Grow Old, Fever, Treat Me Bad and Daddy.
Two Maytals tracks were eventually released in the US (by Atlantic Records) – If You Act This Way and You Make Me Feel The Way I Do.
Meanwhile, Hibbert was arrested in 1966 on trumped-up marijuana charges and imprisoned for 12-months at Richmond Farm Correctional Centre, a rural facility with a banana plantation worked by its inmates.
He wrote the song 54-46, That’s My Number about the experience. The song won the Jamaican National Song Festival competition and was the group’s biggest commercial hit at the time.
Upon his release, Toots put together an ace set of session musicians – comprising bassist Jackie Jackson, guitarist Hux Brown and drummer Paul Douglas – who would back the band for decades to come.
The Maytals were a key group in the evolution of ska to rock steady to reggae in the late 60s and became huge reggae stars. They were, in fact, credited with coining the very word on their Do The Reggay (1968).
In 1972, the group officially changed its name to Toots and the Maytals and their career took off outside Jamaica when their Pressure Drop (1970) was included on the soundtrack of the film The Harder They Come, in 1973, which introduced reggae to much of the world.
Their biggest hit, Monkey Man, reached the UK pop charts as a result of its popularity with skinheads and their 1976 Island release Reggae Got Soul raised the band’s profile abroad as the group continued to tour worldwide.
The group split up after releasing the 1981 album Knockout. Hibbert continued to record as a solo artist throughout the 1980s and a new lineup of the Maytals was formed in the 1990s.
In August 2020, it was reported that Hibbert was in hospital in a medically induced coma. He died on 11 September at the University Hospital of the West Indies in Kingston and it was later confirmed that COVID-19 was the underlying cause of his death. He was 77.