The 10 best reggae singers of all time.

bob marley, Delroy Wilson, Ken Boothe, Peter Tosh, Winston Rodney -

The 10 best reggae singers of all time.

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Ranking of the 10 best reggae singers


From versatile voices like Bob Marley's to the soulful, gospel style of Toots Hibbert to the totally committed and compelling message of Winston Rodney, the best reggae singers of all time form a diverse group that proves there's much more to this music than the obvious stereotypes. Whether they've been leading bands or making a name for themselves as solo artists, here are the top 10 reggae singers of all time.

1:Bob Marley : The icon

There is the image, pinned to the walls of many students. There are his songs, which spoke to the world not only about love, but also about struggle and redemption. There is his role as a prophet who took reggae to places where it had never been heard. There is also his unique status as the world's first "rock" superstar from the so-called "third world. What is often forgotten about Bob Marley is the versatility of his voice: being one of the best reggae singers of all time is what made it all possible.

Bob Marley conquered every style of Jamaican music that developed from the early 1960s until his untimely death in 1982: he was a ska star with the Wailers; he sang silky soul with the same group, matching the glories of the Impressions and the Moonglows, the American vocal groups he admired. He sang gospel. He did folk rock songs that revealed his ability to be brazenly bitchy, romantic and political all at once. He sang folk tunes, got a little funky in the early '70s and proved that a Jamaican voice could reach the world.


To do all this and succeed, he had to be blessed with an exceptional voice. To then use that voice to make his belief system understood and respected around the world is unique. Bob was an extraordinary singer, the kind that makes you listen and recognize it as soon as you hear it. Whether he was welcoming you into his "Jamming" party, where you were all invited, or losing himself in a supernatural connection with the universe in "Natural Mystic," Bob Marley had a perfect command of his material and his music - and your soul. Other singers have covered his songs, but they simply can't match the heights he reached as one of the best singers of any style in history.



2:Winston Rodney : The ambassador of Jamaican reggae

Winston Rodney doesn't break the bank with his vocal range. He wouldn't make girls swoon by singing softly about love, as he rarely did. He never even tried to compete with American soul singers for vocal power. But if you want the kind of singer that only Jamaica can offer, a singer whose heart and feelings are in every word he says, a singer who knows what he's trying to say and why he's saying it, Burning Spear's lead voice would be at the top of your list as one of the best reggae singers the island has to offer. From a quiet, almost sweet voice to a heartbreaking wail, this roots pioneer has spent the better part of the last 50 years spreading the message of Rastafari and Garveyite beliefs, and he's clearly the same voice he was in his early days: involved, committed, and totally mesmerizing.





3:Toots Hibbert : The legend


He has been presented as a sort of folk icon, a soul man and a gospel singer. He is all of these things, but the fact remains that Frederick "Toots" Hibbert is, quite simply, one hell of a reggae singer. In his voice, you'll hear the sound of Jamaican churches in the late 1950s. You'll hear someone celebrating a wedding. You will hear the screams of prisoners in jail. You will hear the countryside, green and lush. You will hear the crowded, sweaty, noisy party rooms. All of Jamaican life is in his work.

Toots became famous as the lead singer of the vocal trio The Maytals, along with Raleigh Gordon and Jerry Mathias. In 1963-64, they recorded ska hits for Coxsone Dodd at Studio One, then others for Byron Lee and Ronnie Nasralla at BMN. They took a brief hiatus while Toots sorted out legal issues, then returned in 1968 to record with Leslie Kong, who produced the majority of the best remembered songs, including "54-46 That's My Number," "Monkey Man," "Pressure Drop" and many others. Reggae fans around the world have enjoyed them. When Kong died suddenly in 1971, the group joined Dynamic Sounds and recorded songs like "Louie Louie", "It Was Written Down" and the classic album Funky Kingston in 1974. The Maytals disbanded in the late 1970s and Toots now tours with a group called The Maytals. He remains one of the best reggae singers in history ,Toots Hibbert died on September 11, 2020, following a hospitalization for respiratory problems.



4:Bunny "Rugs" Clarke : The third world in first class




Third World was one of reggae's biggest crossover hits in the 70s and 80s, with a cover of the O'Jays' "Now That We've Found Love," "Try Jah Love" and "Cool Meditation," blending roots, American disco-funk and throbbing dub into one package. They were considered upper class rather than ghetto, and somewhat smooth, though they did more than their share of the success of reggae, especially on the American continent. It's surprising, then, that many critics didn't notice that their lead singer, Bunny Rugs, was one of the best reggae singers of the time.

If you're looking for soul, look no further; alternately tender and powerful, he could have been the leader of any American R&B group and been acclaimed, but he preferred to stay with his group and who knows what might have happened if he had chosen to stay solo? In any case, his beautiful voice was heard on some of the biggest reggae hits of the late 70's, even if many fans didn't even know his name.



5:Delroy Wilson : the cool master

Delroy Wilson started recording in 1963, at the age of 13, with a squeaky voice. He had the ability to get a song across, but didn't yet have the vocal skills to make you realize how good he was - which is why essential songs like "Oppression" and "I'll Change My Style" were largely ignored. By 1966, however, Delroy had already matured, as tracks like "Dancing Mood" and "Impossible" make clear. His 1969 album Good All Over lives up to its title, and Delroy became an expert at making you listen, his brilliant phrasing no doubt influencing many Jamaican singers.

An unbroken string of classic singles from the rocksteady era through the 70s makes him one of the best reggae singers of all time. Whether it's the all-too-brief love gem "Cool Operator," the brutal roots tune "There Will Be No Escape" or the adult reggae cover of Bob Marley's "I'm Still Waiting," Delroy has made every song his own.




6:Ken Boothe : The perfectionist


In the strange world of reggae, it's possible to be both praised and overlooked. Ken Boothe made a name for himself as one of the greatest voices in rocksteady, with his version of the Supremes' "You Keep Me Hangin' On," the elegant "The Girl I Left Behind" and a powerful cover of Kenny Lynch's "Moving Away." The fact that an album from 1967 is called "Mr. Rock Steady" is not a misnomer. Boothe had - and still has - massive power in his voice, like a Southern soul man, but used it sparingly, preferring to make sure every word was understood and every song was respected.

His union with producer Lloyd Charmers led to two British pop hits in the early 1970s: a cover of David Gates' "Everything I Own" and the original song "Crying Over You." Boothe remained in touch with the grassroots, however, as evidenced by the tracks "Artibella" and "Black Gold And Green." His star faded with the arrival of the rocker era in the late 70s, but he continued to make good records, and recent covers have belatedly given him the recognition he deserved as one of the world's best reggae singers. Listen to this cover of the theme from the iconic movie The Godfather, it's a masterpiece.




7:Janet Kay : The most stylish artist of reggae


In the 1970s, Lovers Rock got two kinds of media coverage: bad and no coverage. The music was bought by swooning schoolgirls and incurable romantics, and its depth tended to be overlooked. Born in the UK at a time when some of the reggae audience wasn't interested in roots reggae in the 70s, the sound was dominated by female singers and the goal was to put the kind of soul delivered by the likes of Deniece Williams and Margie Joseph into a reggae context.

It was always hard to find the kind of vocal ability Williams could offer, but in teenager Janet Kay, rock lovers had one of the best female reggae singers: someone who shared her astronomically high range but managed to be as smooth as her soul counterparts. Kay's record, a cover of Minnie Riperton's "Loving You," was solid; other lush releases, like "You Bring The Sun Out" and a rendition of Billy Stewart's "I Do Love You," worked wonderfully, and her British number one, "Silly Games," produced by Dennis Bovell, was, for many listeners, the pinnacle of lovers rock: listen to her fly. And if you want to hear more of the best reggae singers in the lovers sphere, try Louisa Mark and Carroll Thompson.



8:John Holt : The Teacher


A forerunner of the kind of cool that Gregory Isaacs specialized in, John Holt was a reggae colossus and a master of all styles of music. He began his career in the ska era and four decades later was filling London's Royal Albert Hall with a symphony orchestra. He rose to fame in Jamaica with the exceptionally talented vocal group The Paragons, which recorded such classics as "Riding High On A Windy Day," "Happy Go Lucky Girl" and the original version of "The Tide Is High," which Holt wrote and which helped Blondie and Atomic Kitten top the British charts.

The Paragons were by far the most successful vocal group in Jamaica, with Holt most often leading their recordings; by the late 1960s he was also working as a solo artist, creating such gems as "Ali Baba," "OK Fred," "Tonight" and many others, and he entered the 1970s as one of the best singers of the era. Holt made everything look easy, and his Time Is The Master album allowed him to work with heavy reggae rhythms and an orchestra at the same time, a style that led him to record several albums with Trojan in a similar style; his 1000 Volts Of Holt, 2000 Volts Of Holt, etc., series was kept in the press for years. He had a UK Top 10 hit with a cover of Kris Kristofferson's "Help Me Make It Through The Night" in 1974, and was generally regarded as the nonchalant voice of Jamaica's uptowns.

However, that's not all Holt is. In the mid-1970s, he scored with the hard-hitting "Up Park Camp," and his 1977 album Roots Of Holt was an example of how to be both heavy and classy. In 1983 he teamed up with Junjo, the pioneer of dancehall production, and produced "Police In Helicopter", a song about the eternal struggle between the authorities and the ganja growers, which was a huge hit wherever there was a reggae audience. Other excellent singles for the Parish and Jammy's labels, among others, have confirmed Holt's reputation as one of the best reggae singers of the digital age. He might have enjoyed a longer string of pop hits had he been better marketed, but Holt didn't really need to: he was a legend anyway.




9:Peter Tosh : the weed doctor



The third member of the Wailers' classic vocal trio, unlike the playful Bob Marley and the sweet and melancholy Bunny Wailer, Peter Tosh was tough and sharp - it's no coincidence that he sang "Stepping Razor." Perhaps the most talented instrumentalist of the three, Tosh would have found his place in music had he not had a great voice, playing guitar, keyboards, percussion and melodica. But while he was a fabulous harmony singer, he also possessed a fierce, percussive lead vocal style that suited his more militant moods.

When The Wailers were in their "rough boy" period in the '60s, Tosh was credible in that role, delivering "I'm The Toughest" and "Treat Me Good" or condemning a lost soul in "Maga Dog. He also knew how to handle traditional songs, as in "Jumbie Jamboree" and "Shame And Scandal," where his husky, throaty tone took on a wickedly sarcastic air. He was also an early adopter of Rastafarianism in reggae, recording "Rasta Shook Them Up" in 1967, and his spiritual righteousness surfaced in his version of Nina Simone's "Sinner Man," which also inspired his activist single "Downpresser."

When the Wailers signed to Island in 1973, Tosh co-wrote one of their most famous calls for revolution, "Get Up, Stand Up," and they recorded other versions of his older songs "400 Years" and "Stop That Train." But Tosh felt that Bob's star was being promoted at the expense of the group, so he left the group, taking much of the Wailers' toughness with him. Founding his label Intel Diplo (i.e. Intelligent Diplomat), he released a series of good singles, including "Burial" and "Legalise It," the latter of which became the title track of his famous 1976 debut album for Virgin, followed by the typically ferocious Equal Rights in 1977.


Signing to Rolling Stones Records, Tosh broke into the Top 50 with a stunning transformation of the Temptations' "(You Gotta Walk) Don't Look Back" with Mick Jagger on backing vocals, from the album Bush Doctor, named after one of Tosh's nicknames (a bush doctor is a wise man and purveyor of natural medicines). It was the first of four albums he released for the Rolling Stones label, all of which were underground hits in the U.S., and one of which, Mama Africa (1983), entered the Top 50 on the Billboard album chart.

Tosh's last album was the energetic No Nuclear War in 1987, which won him a Grammy. The singer's career was on the rise, which made it all the more tragic that this great artist was gunned down in a botched robbery at his home in September 1987, another victim of Jamaica's senseless violence.



10: Alpha blondy: the francophone



Is it still necessary to present the most famous rasta man of the French-speaking world in brief. Alpha Blondy (born Seydou Koné on January 1, 1953 in Dimbokoro, Ivory Coast) is a reggae singer. He is a major star in West Africa. He played with The Wailers. He studied English at Hunter College in New York, then at the American language program at Columbia University.




Alpha Blondy sings mainly in his native language, Dioula, in French and English, and sometimes in Arabic or Hebrew. His lyrics convey strong political attitudes and a sense of humor. He coined the French word "démocrature" to identify certain African governments.


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