Frederick Nathaniel ‘Toots’ Hibbert was planning the mother of all birthday bashes this year, with a triple celebration in mind. “It would be his birthday, the release of his first album in 10 years, and a Grammy nomination. We were so sure of the nomination that Toots had planned this celebration long before COVID even entered the conversation,” Jackie Jackson of Toots and the Maytals told The Gleaner.
Toots would certainly have had all three reasons to celebrate as his album, Got to be Tough, released through Trojan Jamaica/BMG on August 28, was nominated in the Reggae category of the 2020 Grammy awards.
“We would usually be home by mid-November, having been on tour for the entire year, so there was no birthday celebration on tour. Of course, we would call him on his birthday and so [today] we will just remember him and give thanks for the great music he gave the world,” Jackson added.
Toots’ widow, Doreen Hibbert, in a release, stated, “Words cannot express how much we all miss Toots, especially today. I feel very sad because he is not here to celebrate his birthday with us. His birthday parties were joyous occasions, he made sure everyone had a great time.”
His daughter Jenieve Hibbert agreed, noting that, “Daddy loved celebrating his birthday.”
Toots’ grand-daughter, Cressida Rattigan, said, “In recent years, my granddad would throw himself these impromptu birthday parties. And last year was no different. He just loved having people around and sharing good food and times with them, and they always showed up for him and his birthday. Grandpa you were truly one of a kind, a real rockstar to say the least. I Know heaven has gained a lot more rhythm and musicality to last forever. Love you my grandad, happy 78th birthday!” She even wrote a poem titled, To Nyah/Grandpa .
Toots’ nephew, Wilbert Hibbert said that last year Toots had “di biggest cake dem ever see” and added, “This year would be sweeter, with Nyah releasing him new Grammy album.”
Got to be Tough, described as “a wake-up call to instigate unity of the people”, was Toots’ first album after a 2012 incident in which he was hit in the head with a vodka bottle while performing at an outdoor festival in Richmond, Virginia, USA. Toots, in a 2019 interview with The Sunday Gleaner, said that although the court case was not yet over, one part of it had come to a wonderful conclusion. “The young boy who threw the bottle was drunk. People get high on my songs, and people love it so much that they do crazy things. I forgive people who do crazy things.” Toots also wrote a letter to the judge, asking him to be lenient with the then 21-year-old bottle thrower, whose parents he met with after the incident. “His mom and dad, they love me. They were so happy. They could not believe that a black man was being so kind to them. They cried,” he said.
Clearly, Toots, in life, demonstrated the kind of love and unity that he sang about.
Hibbert, the boy from Treadlight in Clarendon, formed the Maytals in 1962 and his career spans every phase of Jamaica’s musical evolution. The four-time Grammy-nominated artiste holds the Guinness World Record for the shortest time between the recording and release of a live album, Toots Live at the Hammersmith Palais. He has numerous gold and number-one songs in various countries, and The Harder They Come – one of Vanity Fair’s Top 10 Best Soundtracks of all time – contains two tracks from Toots and the Maytals, who were also featured in the film.
However, the Grammy winner told The Gleaner in 2019 that the proudest moment of his career was when he won the first Jamaican Festival Song Competition in 1966 with the song Bam Bam. “I won it three times and placed second twice. I am very proud of that,” Toots said.
In 2020, Toots again entered the Festival Song Competition, and as fate would have it, the final, curtain-closing performance of his career was on the Festival stage in August 2020. The legendary musician and frontman of the band Toots & the Maytals passed away in Kingston, Jamaica, on September 11, three months before his 78th birthday.