Bunny Wailer, Reggae Legend and Founder of The Wailers, Dies at 73

by Jamila Lizet White

March 3, 2021

Photo by John Lynn Kirk/Redferns

Bunny Wailer, the last surviving founding member of The Wailers, a Jamaican group who helped popularize reggae music to a worldwide scale, died Tuesday (March 2) in Jamaica. He was 73.

Photo by Roy Rochlin/Getty Images

Born Neville O’Riley Livingston, his manager Maxine Stowe was the first to confirm his death. In October 2018, he had a minor stroke which resulted in speech problems. Less than two years later, he suffered another stroke and ultimately passed from the complications at Andrews Memorial Hospital in the Jamaican parish of St. Andrew.

Born in Kingston, Jamaica on April 10, 1947, Wailer was raised by a single father who was a minister. He met Bob Marley when they were children in the Nine Mile village of St. Ann Parrish and became close friends. Wailer’s father and Marley’s mother, who was also a single parent, later had a daughter together and both families moved to Kingston.

It wasn’t until 1963 when the two met Peter Tosh in the Kingston neighborhood of Trench Town and formed The Wailers. “Simmer Down” was the first single released by the reggae group and became a No. 1 hit in Jamaica.

Although members were constantly rotating, Wailer remained a member until he pursued his solo career in 1976 with his debut solo album, Blackheart Man. 

Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

The 3x Grammy-winning artist spoke to the significance of his debut solo album in a 2017 interview with Reggaeville stating, “The tracks that were done in Blackheart Man were very symbolic and significant to this whole development of reggae music.”

“I really consider Blackheart Man to be one of those albums that the universal reggae world should be focused on,” he added.

In 2012, the Jamaican government bestowed on Wailer the Order of Jamaica honor and five years later he received “the country’s highest honor,” the Order of Merit.

Tributes from Jamaican politicians and leaders alike have been pouring in since his death. Politician Peter Phillips wrote in a Facebook post that his passing “brings to a close the most vibrant period of Jamaica’s musical experience. Bunny was a good conscious Jamaican brethren believing and working for Truth and rights and Justice.”

Amongst a series of tweets, Prime Minister Andrew Holness tweeted that “This is a great loss for Jamaica and for Reggae, undoubtedly Bunny Wailer will always be remembered for his sterling contribution to the music industry and Jamaica’s culture.”

We are sending our thoughts and prayers to Bunny Wailer’s family and loved ones.

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