Robbie Shakespeare, Legendary Reggae Bassist, Passes Away at 68

Image: David Corio/Redferns

Robbie Shakespeare, an acclaimed bassist and record producer, has passed away, the Guardian reports. He was 68. According to the Jamaica Gleaner, Shakespeare had recently undergone kidney surgery and was hospitalized in Florida.

Andrew Holness, Prime Minister of Jamaica, offered his condolences and paid tribute to Shakespeare on Twitter.

“When it comes to reggae bass playing, no one comes close to having the influence of Robbie Shakespeare,” tweeted the Jamaican prime minister, Andrew Holness. “He will be remembered for his sterling contribution to the music industry and Jamaica’s culture.”

“I am in shock and sorrow after just receiving the news that my friend and brother, the legendary bassist Robbie Shakespeare, has died,” said Olivia “Babsy” Grange, the Jamaican minister of entertainment and culture, in a statement. “Robbie and Sly Dunbar as Sly and Robbie have been among Jamaica’s greatest musicians.”

A prolific bassist, Shakespeare co-founded the acclaimed duo Sly and Robbie with Sly Dunbar, also known as the “riddim twins,” in the mid-70s. Their breakout work was on Mighty Diamonds’ 1976 album Right Time.

The pair continued their successful partnership working with Grace Jones, Joe Cocker, Madonna, Bob Dylan, Mick Jagger, the Rolling Stones, Sting, Serge Gainsbourg, Britney Spears, and more. They are credited with helping to shape the modern sound of reggae by introducing the “Rockers” beat and later worked with Chaka Demus & Pliers on the classic “Murder She Wrote.

In his illustrious career, Shakespeare was nominated for 13 Grammys in his career and won twice, once in 1984 for best reggae recording for “Anthem” and then in 1998 for best reggae album for Friends.

In the 2011 documentary, Reggae Got Soul: The Story of Toots and the Maytals, the duo were described as “one of the most influential artists ever to come out of Jamaica.”

In 2020, Shakespeare was at number 17 on Rolling Stone’s greatest bassists of all-time list. “I appreciate the fact that others looking in can see what we are doing for the music,” he said of the list. “This makes me feel like a baby.”

We extend our prayers and condolences to the family and friends of Robbie Shakespeare.

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