One of reggae’s most important voices, Bunny Wailer, has died at the age of 73.
The singer, from Kingston, Jamaica, was the first member of The Wailers and his childhood friend, Bob Marley.
Together, they gained international fame with reggae classics such as Summer Down and Stir It Up, before Wailer left solo in 1974.
Cause Of Death
He went on to win three Grammys and was awarded the Order Of Merit of Jamaica in 2017.
His death was confirmed by manager Maxine Stowe, as well as Jamaican Minister of Culture Olivia Grange.
The cause of death is unknown, but he has been in hospital since he suffered a stroke in July 2020.
Tributes have already poured in for the musician, with fans and fellow musicians describing him as a legend.
“This is one of the lowest moment in the history of our culture,” wrote dancehall artist Shaggy on Facebook. “You have made us proud king. Rest well.”
“Oh man, god bless Bunny Wailer,” wrote Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist, Flea. “What a true rocker and noble man. I love him.”
Andrew Holness, Jamaica’s prime minister, also paid tribute, calling his death “a great loss for Jamaica and for reggae”.
The star, whose real name was Neville O’Riley Livingston, was the last survivor of The Wailers, following the assassination of Bob Marley in 1981 and the assassination of Peter Tosh during a 1987 robbery.
Born April 20, 1947, Livingston spent his first years in the village of Nine Miles, where he was raised by his father, Thaddeus, who ran a grocery store.
It was there that he first met Marley, and the young children became strong friends, performing their first music together at Stepney Primary and Junior High School.
After Marley’s father died in 1955, his mother, Cedella, moved in with Livingston’s father. The boys were raised as stepchildren, especially after Cedella and Thaddeus adopted a daughter together, Pearl.
‘We Started Out Crying’
After moving to Trenchtown in Kingston, they met with Peter Tosh and formed a sound group called The Wailing Wailers – because, Marley said: “We started crying.”
The area was poor and plagued by violence. Livingston later recalled that he built his first guitar from “bamboo workers, fine strings from an electric cable and a large canard sardine”.
But singer Joe Higgs, aka “the Godfather of Reggae”, lived nearby and took the boys under his wing. Under his tutelage, they refined their sound, adding vocalist Junior Braithwaite and backing singers Beverly Kelso and Cherry Green before shortening their name to The Wailers.
In December 1963, the band broke into Coxsone Dodd’s ugly Studio One to record Summer Down, a song Marley wrote seeking peace in the Kingston ghetto.
Faster and harder than the music The Wailers later became known for, the song was an immediate hit, reaching number one in Jamaica. They followed it up with the original version of Duppy Conqueror, before releasing their debut album The Wailing Wailers, in 1965.
Soon after, the band went on hiatus as Marley got married and moved to the USA, and Livingston served a year in jail for marijuana possession. But they still managed to release 28 singles between 1966 and 1970, before releasing their second album, Soul Rebels.
Their international breakthrough came three years later with Catch A Fire – the first record they made for Chris Blackwell’s Island Records.
The collaboration came about almost by accident. The Wailers had been touring the UK with Johnny Nash – who’d had a hit with a cover of Stir It Up – but found themselves unable to pay for their trip home.
In the 1990s, he won the Grammy award for best reggae album three times – with each of those records extending and preserving the legacy of Marley and the Wailers: 1991’s Time Will Tell: A Tribute to Bob Marley, 1995’s Crucial! Roots Classics, and the 1997’s all-star Hall of Fame: A Tribute to Bob Marley’s 50th Anniversary.
“I’m satisfied with knowing that I’m serving the purpose of getting reggae music to be where it’s at,” he told the Washington Post in 2006. “I’m proud to be part of that.”