Bunny Wailer, reggae luminary, dies in Jamaica aged 73

Jamaica's prime minister described musician's death as 'great loss for Jamaica and for reggae'

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Reggae legend Bunny Wailer, who co-founded Bob Marley and the Wailers in the 1960s and helped to make the Jamaican beat a global phenomenon, died on Tuesday aged 73.

No cause of death was given but the Jamaican Ministry of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport said Wailer was in hospital in Kingston since December.

Wailer, who was born Neville Livingstone in the Nine Mile district, from which Marley also came, suffered a stroke in 2018 and another in July 2020.

He was the last surviving original member of the Wailers.

Marley died of cancer in 1981 and Peter Tosh was murdered in 1987.

Wailer, who was a childhood friend of Marley, won three Grammys over his career and in 2017 was awarded Jamaica's Order of Merit, one of the country's highest honours.

"We remain grateful for the role Bunny Wailer played in the development and popularity of reggae music across the world," Minister of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport Olivia Grange, said.

"We remember with great pride how Bunny, Bob Marley and Peter Tosh took reggae music to the four corners of the earth."

Marley and Tosh were The Wailers' primary singers and songwriters but Wailer played a key role in providing harmonies and percussion to the trio's songs, Rolling Stone  magazine said.

"The Wailers are responsible for the Wailers sound," Wailer told Afropop in 2016.

"Bob, Peter, and myself: we are totally responsible for the Wailers sound, and what the Wailers brought to the world and left as a legacy."

The band's debut album on a major label, Catch a Fire, released in 1973, helped to propel it to international fame.

At one point that record was ranked 126th on Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Albums of All Time list. The band's biggest hits include Simmer Down  and One Love.

After leaving the band in 1974, Wailer went on to enjoy a prolific solo career as a writer, producer and singer of what is perhaps Jamaica's best known export.

He drew much praise for his album Blackheart Man, which included the song Battering Down Sentence.

The song drew on Wailer's experience while completing a one-year prison sentence for marijuana possession.

"The tracks that were done in Blackheart Man  were very symbolic and significant to this whole development of reggae music," Wailer told Reggaeville  in 2017.

"I really consider Blackheart Man  to be one of those albums that the universal reggae world should be focused on."

Wailer, a Rastafarian like Marley, won the Grammy for best Reggae album three times in the 1990s. Tributes poured in on Tuesday.

"In my view, Bunny Wailer was a more potent musician than even Bob Marley," said Karyl Walker, a veteran Jamaican entertainment journalist.

"He played instruments, more than one, and he wrote very good songs."

Walker said the wildly popular line dance song Electric Boogie from 1983 was written by Wailer.

"Now all the Wailers are dead and it is incumbent on the younger Jamaican entertainers to raise the bar and carry on this rich legacy," he told AFP.

"We have lost an icon," said Herbie Harris, a keyboard player and vocalist who now leads The ATF band.

Wailer's death comes six months after that of another Reggae giant, Toots Hibbert of Toots and the Maytals.

Hibbert, known for such hits as Pressure Drop, died in Kingston in September at the age of 77.