Toots Hibbert in the Hall of Fame (and Maybe a Jamaican One?)


One of my blog followers and friends whom I love to hear from is Roger Steffens, the reggae archivist, author, trained Shakespearean actor and more, who has rooms full of reggae memorabilia. Roger has contributed to countless music anthologies as a writer and photographer – including the ten-CD series entitled The Complete Bob Marley & the Wailers 1967 to 1972. Released in 1998-2003, this 220-track series revealed over 100 rare Bob Marley & the Wailers recordings to the world, including major songs like Selassie Is the Chapel, and many of them previously unreleased, such as Rock to the Rock. There is a lot more to say about Roger and his warm, lifelong embrace of reggae music – take a read of this interview.

Roger Steffens (and Bob). Photo: Reggae Vibes/Stephen Cooper

Anyway, Roger dropped me a note this week about Frederick Nathaniel “Toots” Hibbert – described by a friend on Twitter as “a firebrand for Jamaican music.” I wrote about Toots’ passing (in Kingston on September 11) for Global Voices here. It’s possible that Jamaicans at home have not quite grasped the enormous popularity of this man overseas; he was truly much loved. In London many years ago, a ticket to one of his concerts was a treasured item.

So, Roger wrote as follows: Since my friend Toots Hibbert’s sad passing, several people have asked me why he is not in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, alongside his fellow pioneers, Jimmy and Bob. So I decided to start a petition…Thanks so much.  If you need any more info do let me know. One Heart, Roger 

Now, before I go any further, could I please note that last year I had suggested that a Reggae Hall of Fame in downtown Kingston would be the ultimate tourist attraction. There is no doubt that it would draw many thousands of reggae fans to our capital city, injecting lots of energy (and hopefully money in the city’s coffers). After all, the Bob Marley Museum (Bob’s uptown home) is usually on the checklist of any visitor to Kingston. This could be so much more. It would be a huge investment but if done properly, it would pay off.

Well, this idea is hardly original – I know it has come up before. It’s one of those ideas that comes up every now and then (I recall the late Michael Thompson had been advocating for it). Everyone says, “Yes, wouldn’t that be awesome,” and then the idea is dropped. I would like to revive it again.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in downtown Cleveland, Ohio. A Reggae Hall of Fame could easily work in a similar setting in downtown Kingston.

I have visited the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland and described my visit here. It is not just a museum (although I did enjoy poring over an exhibition about the Doors’ Jim Morrison, including a letter from his Dad apologizing to his university for his very bad behavior. I just happen to love this kind of thing, as I think Mr. Steffens does!) The building is bright, light and modern and has a celebratory air about it. There are concerts and events and, of course, induction ceremonies.

This is what the petition page on niceup.com says:

Frederick “Toots” Hibbert belongs in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. Not only did he create the word “reggae” in his 1968 recording of “Do the Reggae,” but he also starred in the groundbreaking film “The Harder They Come,” alongside Hall of Fame legend Jimmy Cliff. Toots’ 60-year career went from one triumph to another, limning the day to day levity of the sufferers in all their bittersweet glory. As an English encyclopedia wrote:

“No artist ever painted a broader and truer canvas of daily life in Jamaica than Toots. The full-blooded celebrations of ‘Sweet and Dandy’; the screaming cry against injustice in ‘54-46’; The harsh strains of ghetto life in ‘Pressure Drop’; the sheer exuberance of first love in ‘It’s You’; the happy companionship of ‘Never You Change’; the ever-present threat of violence described in ‘Bam Bam’.” Called “The Otis Redding of Jamaica,” Rolling Stone included him in their list of the Greatest Vocalists of All Time. Recording greats jumped at his invitation to record with him: Keith Richards, Bonnie Raitt, Eric Clapton and Willie Nelson , up to the 2020 collaboration with Ringo Starr and others on his latest album “Got To Be Tough,” (Co-produced with Zak Starkey), released days before his passing from a covid19-related illness.

Asked if Toots’ work bears comparison to others already in the Rock Hall, guitarist Warren Haynes says Toots “stands among the giants like Otis, Ray Charles, Solomon Burke, Jackie Wilson and Sam Cooke.” Ziggy Marley calls him “a father figure.” Trey Anastasio concurs: “Like so many people, I’ve loved his music my entire life. It was ubiquitious, playing at parties and gatherings. It felt like an element, like air.” Please join your voices to all of those petitioning the Rock Hall to induct the immortal Toots Hibbert, and pass this information on to everyone you know who feels the same way!

Please sign Roger’s petition! I think Toots should be in the Cleveland Hall of Fame – and perhaps, one day, in a shiny Reggae Hall of Fame in my beloved Kingston.

Toots Hibbert. (Photo credit: Getty Images)

8 thoughts on “Toots Hibbert in the Hall of Fame (and Maybe a Jamaican One?)

  1. Thank you as always Emma for the wonderful re-cap of his life and impact in this genre. When I heard the news that he went to intensive care there, and I am not sure if this is the right time to say it, but I thought that it would be it judging from the medical system’s poor records. This is just my humble opinion, but I’ll get back to his life’s work, and thank you again for this wonderful memory including others that you’ve been preserving.

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    1. You are so welcome and thank you for your kind words! I think part of the problem with COVID deaths is that some people are leaving it too late to go to the hospital and are trying to treat it themselves at home? We have had 174 deaths to date – I am not sure how that compares globally. But I agree – let’s celebrate Toots and his amazing life and music. Good news is that he will be buried in National Heroes Park soon!

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  2. Hail Up Sista P,

    Thanks so very, very much for this eloquent posting, most appreciated. We’re working very hard to get my Reggae Archives, now filling seven rooms floor to ceiling of our home in L.A., to Jamaica to become a major museum of the Golden Age of Reggae Music. I’ll keep you informed as things progress, and thank you from the bottom of my heart for your support. One Heart,Roger

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    1. Oh my goodness, Roger! How wonderful, simply amazing… Well I wanted to give it a little more push so I hope you get more signatures for the petition. It is my pleasure, Stay well, Emma

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