Bunny Wailer, who was the last remaining founding member of the iconic reggae group The Wailers, has died at 73.
The Jamaica Observer confirmed the death of Wailer, whose given name was Neville Livingston, via a statement from his manager, who said he died Tuesday morning.
No cause of death was shared, but Wailer had apparently been in and out of the hospital since suffering a stroke last summer.
Wailer was born on April 10, 1947 and grew up with Bob Marley in Trench Town, a slum community in Kingston, Jamaica made globally known with songs like “Trench Town Rock” by The Wailers band, which was formed by the two men and Peter Tosh in the 1960s. Marley died from cancer in 1981 and Tosh was killed during a home invasion in 1987.
Following the trio’s debut album in 1965, The Wailing Wailers, the band went on a brief hiatus during which Wailer was locked up for marijuana possession. Following his release, the band reconnected and took the world by storm with the 1973 albums Catch a Fire and Burnin’—the latter of which was added to the Library of Congress’ National Recording Registry in 2006 for its cultural importance. Wailer was the pen behind tracks, “Pass It On” and “Hallelujah Time” on Burnin’ and was integral to building the group’s harmonies, writes Rolling Stone.
Wailer dropped out of the group in 1973, citing unhappiness with their manager Chris Blackwell, and went on to release his own album Blackheart Man in 1976.
“Blackheart Man is really an exceptional album, as to the valuation of the message and the amount of people who have received that message,” Wailer told the Jamaica Gleaner in 2009.
“Blackheart Man has strengthen[ed] I to maintain I spiritual being,” he added, in the typical parlance of Rastafarians, who use ‘I’ instead of ‘me’ to acknowledge their oneness with Jah.
One of my favorite tracks from that album is “Dreamland,” Wailer’s rooted yet uplifting cover of a song originally written by American R&B singer and songwriter Al Johnson for the El Tempos in 1963.
(Sidenote: as a lover of the global Black diaspora and all the ways we are still unconsciously connected to each other, an aspect of Wailer’s music that brings me deep joy is his use of hooting bird call sounds in tracks like “Armageddon,” a vocal effect also frequently employed by Atlanta trap group Migos).
Wailer released several more albums throughout his career, and leaves behind a musical legacy that will live on for generations, as have those of his former bandmates Marley and Tosh. Wailer was a three-time Grammy Award winner and was awarded an Order of Merit by the Jamaican government for his accomplishments.
“There’s a land that I have heard about/So far across the sea…We’ll count the stars up in the sky/And surely we’ll never die,” Wailer sang in Dreamland. Here’s hoping he is now resting in that dreamland.