Robbie Shakespeare, influential reggae bassist, dies aged 68

The legendary bassist and producer – one half of duo Sly and Robbie – has died.

Influential Jamaican musician Robbie Shakespeare has died aged 68, Jamaica Observer and The Gleaner report. The Grammy-winning bassist had reportedly been ill for some time, and died in a Florida hospital yesterday (8 December) after undergoing kidney surgery. 

Shakespeare was best known as half of Sly and Robbie – the acclaimed rhythm section and production duo he formed with drummer Sly Dunbar in the mid-70s. Together, the pair worked on music with with pop and rock greats such as Grace Jones, Madonna, Bob Dylan, Mick Jagger and Sting. They also worked with number of esteemed reggae artists including U-Roy, Bunny Wailer, Black Uhuru, Gregory Isaacs and Peter Tosh. 

Shakespeare was born in east Kingston in 1953. He grew up around music, and during his formative years learned how to pay bass under the guidance of fellow bass legend Aston “Family Man” Barrett of The Wailers and The Upsetters. He’d later connect with Dunbar to form Sly and Robbie, and launch their own production company Taxi Records. The pair would go onto release countless records of their own and produce a slew of influential tracks including Chaka Demus & Pliers’ Murder She Wrote and Bam Bam, and No Doubt’s Hey Baby and Underneath It All.

The musicians’s death was confirmed by Jamaica’s culture minister Olivia Grange. Taking to Twitter, Grange wrote: “I am in shock and sorrow after just receiving the news that my friend and brother, the legendary bassist  Robbie Shakespeare, has died. Robbie and Sly Dunbar, the drummer, as Sly and Robbie, have been among Jamaica’s  greatest musicians” [sic]

In a later tweet, Grange said: “Robbie’s loss will be severely felt by the industry at home and abroad. My condolences to those he leaves behind.”

Andrew Holness, Prime Minister of Jamaica, also paid tribute to Shakespeare on social media, offering his condolences to Shakespeare’s friends, family and fans. “When it comes to reggae bass playing, no one comes close to having the influence of Robbie Shakespeare,” Holness added. “He will be remembered for his sterling contribution to the music industry and Jamaica’s culture. May his soul rest in peace.” [sic]

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