Frederick Nathaniel “Toots” Hibbert was born on 08 Dec 1942 in May Pen, Clarendon, the youngest of seven children. He grew up singing gospel music in a church choir and moved to Kingston in the late 1950s.
Hibbert met Henry “Raleigh” Gordon and Nathaniel “Jerry” Mathias in Kingston in 1962 and formed The Maytals as a vocal trio. The first instrumentalist members added to the group included Jackie Jackson, Hux Brown, Rad Bryan, and Paul Douglas.
In 1972, the group changed its name from ‘The Maytals’ to ‘Toots and the Maytals’, with “Toots” referring to frontman Toots Hibbert, and “the Maytals” referring to the group’s instrumentalists and background vocalists.
The Maytals first had chart success recording for producer Clement “Coxsone” Dodd at Studio One. With musical backing from Dodd’s house band, the Skatalites, the Maytals’ close-harmony gospel singing ensured success, overshadowing Dodd’s other up-and-coming vocal group, the Wailers.
After staying at Studio One for about two years, the group moved on to do sessions for Prince Buster before recording with Byron Lee in 1966. With Lee, the Maytals won the first-ever Jamaican Independence Festival Popular Song Competition with their original song “Bam Bam” (later covered in a Dancehall style by Sister Nancy, and also by Yellowman in 1982).
The group’s musical career was interrupted in late 1966 when Hibbert was jailed for 18 months for possession of marijuana. He stated that he was not arrested for ganja, but while bailing a friend. Hibbert reportedly wrote “54-46 That’s My Number” about his time in jail.
Following Hibbert’s release in 1967, the Maytals began working with the Chinese Jamaican producer Leslie Kong, a collaboration which yielded a string of hits throughout the late 1960s and early 1970s. These included “Do the Reggay”, released in 1968, which was the first song to first use the word “reggae” and gave the developing genre its name.
The Maytals are responsible for some of the biggest hits in reggae history, including “Pressure Drop,” “Sweet And Dandy” and “54-46 (That’s My Number)”, the winner of the 1969 Jamaican Independence Festival Popular Song Competition.
In 1970 “Monkey Man” became the group’s first international hit. By 1971, they signed a recording contract with Island Records become the biggest act in Jamaica, and had become international stars.
In 1972 the group won the Jamaican Independence Festival Popular Song Competition for a third time with “Pomps and Pride”.
Chris Blackwell said of Toots: “He is one of the purest human beings I’ve met in my life, pure almost to a fault.”
Toots and the Maytals’ compositions experienced a resurgence of popularity in 1978–80 during the reggae punk and ska revival period in the UK.
The group split up after releasing the 1981 album Knockout and in the early 1990s a new lineup of the Maytals was formed. Toots & the Maytals hold the current record of number one hits in Jamaica, with a total of thirty-one.
Toots passed away from Covid-19 on 12 September 2020, surrounded by his family at the University Hospital of the West Indies in Kingston, Jamaica.