The year 2020 has been challenging at best, calamitous at worst. After nine months, the world is ready to usher in 2021, maybe without even glancing at Christmas, which seems to have the Grinch hovering somewhere in the background. The music industry, which has taken a battering, has had more than its fair share of losses. From reggae music pioneers who have trumpeted potent messages of love and resistance across the world to radio disc jocks and producers, the voices have been muted but not silenced. Today, we pause to remember and celebrate those we have lost.
Very early in the year, pre-COVID-19, reggae singer Derrick Lara, of reggae group The Tamlins, passed away in Miami, Florida. The singer and drummer, remembered for his consummate professionalism and also for being the ‘crush’ of many young girls, had been battling lung cancer for less than a year. He was 61.
Albert ‘Apple Gabriel’ Craig, an original member of roots reggae trio Israel Vibration, passed away in March, also in the United States. Hubert Lee, 75, a singer who had a stint with The Clarendonians, made his transition on March 31 in the US. Eddie Parkins, one half of the duo Alton (Ellis) and Eddie, who, in 1960, recorded what would become a monster hit, Muriel, passed away in New York in April. Johnny Golding, whose Swing Magazine covered the Jamaican entertainment scene for over 10 years, died in April of natural causes. Golding resided in Bahir Dar, Ethiopia.
Veteran reggae vocalist and prolific songwriter Keith ‘Bob Andy’ Anderson answered a higher calling in March after a battle with cancer. He left an enduring musical legacy, both as a solo artiste and as part of the duo Bob and Marcia (Griffiths). Numbered among his greatest hits are the classic I’ve Got to Go Back Home and Fire Burning. My Boy Lollipop singer Millie Small made headlines across the world when Island Records founder Chris Blackwell announced her death from a stroke in May. Small is credited with introducing the world to ska with her smash hit My Boy Lollipop. Billboard took a journey through their archives to recall Small’s successes: “ My Boy Lollipop peaked at No. 2 on the Hot 100 (chart dated July 4, 1964). Another of her hits, Sweet William , peaked at No. 40 on the September 5, 1964-dated chart. Her album My Boy Lollipop also peaked at No. 132 on the Billboard 200 on August 29, 1964.”
In July, rocksteady-reggae legend Dobby Dobson, the Loving Pauper who gave Jamaica That Wonderful Sound, died, reportedly, from complications caused by COVID-19. Pioneering radio broadcaster Gil Bailey, a champion of West Indian radio in New York known as the godfather of reggae radio, also succumbed to the virus. Reggae pioneer Delroy Washington, a giant of British reggae, was also cut down by COVID-19. One of the first reggae artistes signed to major record companies such as CBS, Island, and Virgin, he was remembered for his organisation, the Federation of Reggae Music, through which he “fought tirelessly to represent a generation of Caribbean musicians who gave their best years to the UK music scene”. There was an outpouring of love in the New York area in April when the Power of Reggae founder, Father German, passed away from a cardiac arrest due to complications from COVID-19.
Grammy Award-winning producer Bobby Digital, who earned the title of one of the founding fathers of the global dancehall movement, succumbed to kidney-related illnesses in May. His iconic Digital B studio saw many young and established artistes pass through its gates, and his productions helped turn Shabba Ranks into the ‘Grammy Kid’. Clifton ‘Specialist’ Dillon, Shabba’s former manager, hailed Bobby Digital as “a genius, an innovator, a musical incubator, a legend, and a brother”, and Buju Banton thanked him “for giving [him] the chance as a young man”. In July, Jawara ‘Tosh 1’ McIntosh, the youngest son of reggae legend Peter Tosh, made his transition. In 2017, he was left comatose after being beaten in a New Jersey jail by another inmate while serving a sentence for ganja-related charges. Dancing legend Labba Labba passed away at the age of 75 at his home in Trench Town, Kingston, also in July. Veteran deejay Purpleman, who found fame in the 1980s, died in August at the Kingston Public Hospital. He was 58. One of the famous trio of albino deejays, he was affiliated with Junjo Lawes’ Volcano Records camp.
Earlier this month, master percussionist and songwriter Denver ‘Feluke’ Smith lost his battle to cancer while in Mexico for another round of treatments. Smith toured with Luciano, Jimmy Cliff, and the Marleys and was a key member of Etana’s band. In July, veteran singer and songwriter Ernie Smith lost his beloved wife, Janet, and reggae artistes Shenseea, Capleton, and Beenie Man have been mourning the loss of their mothers.
On Friday, September 11, thirty-three years after the death of the iconic Wailer Peter Tosh, Frederick Nathaniel ‘Toots’ Hibbert made his transition. Toots, a national treasure of international acclaim, was 77 years old.