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Bunny Wailer, Iconic Reggae Singer And Wailers Co-Founder, Has Died At Age 73

Bunny Wailer photographed in London in 1988.
Bunny Wailer photographed in London in 1988.

Singer, songwriter and percussionist Bunny Wailer, an icon of reggae music, died in Kingston, Jamaica, on Tuesday morning. He was 73 years old. Wailer was a founding member of The Wailers, alongside Bob Marley and Peter Tosh.

His death was reported initially by Jamaica's Observer newspaper, which said that he had been unwell since enduring a second stroke in July 2020.

It was confirmed by Olivia Grange, Jamaica's minister of culture, gender, entertainment and sport, who said in a statement: "I announce with deepest sadness the passing of the patriarch, brother, friend and Jamaican music icon, the great Bunny Wailer ... We mourn the passing of this outstanding singer, songwriter and percussionist and celebrate his life and many accomplishments. We remain grateful for the role that Bunny Wailer played in the development and popularity of reggae music across the world."

Wailer was born Neville O'Riley Livingston on April 10, 1947, and literally grew up with Marley from early childhood: Marley's mother and Wailer's father joined households in Kingston, and had a daughter together.

In 1963, Wailer and Marley formed The Wailing Wailers with their friend Peter Tosh. Singers Junior Braithwaite, Beverley Kelso and Cherry Smith joined the group, but departed within a period of months to a few years.

Even as The Wailers rose to international success, touring England and the U.S., Wailer was also recording singles in his own right, and had formed his own record label, as had Marley and Tosh.

By 1974 both Wailer and Tosh had departed from The Wailers, in part because the music industry seemed intently focused on making Marley a solo star. Wailer's subsequent hits included the songs "Cool Runnings" and "Ballroom Floor," as well as his 1976 album, Blackheart Man.

Wailer won three Grammys in the early 1990s; in 2017, he was awarded Jamaica's Order of Merit, one of his country's highest honors.

In a 2016 interview in New York — during his first U.S. tour in more than two decades — Wailer told NPR that he hoped to "just keep on singing ska, rocksteady and reggae music. That's my legacy: to sing for you people and to teach you people of what I've known by singing this music."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.