Terence ‘Astro’ Wilson, founding member of reggae band UB40, dies at 64

UB40 toaster Astro, who helped launch the group in the late '70s in Birmingham, England, passed after a "short illness."

Loading the player...

One of the founders of the veteran British reggae band UB40 has died. 

Terence “Astro” Wilson helped launch the group in the late 1970s in Birmingham, England. He reportedly suffered a “short illness,” which led to his passing. 

UB40 member/toaster Terence “Astro” Wilson performs on stage with the band at the iHeart80s Party 2017 at SAP Center in Jan. 2017 in San Jose, California. (Photo: Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images for iHeartMedia)

“We are absolutely devastated and completely heartbroken to have to tell you that our beloved Astro has today passed away after a very short illness,” read the Twitter account he shared with fellow former band member Ali Campbell Saturday. “The world will never be the same without him.”

Wilson was renowned as UB40’s “toaster,” which is a title given in reggae to the person who does vocals that are similar to spoken-word over the music. 

UB40 was known for its infectious reggae renditions of hit pop songs. The original group featured a diverse mix, with musicians from England, Ireland, Jamaican and more. They were nominated for the Grammy Award for Best Reggae Album four times. 

The group had two Billboard Hot 100 singles with “Red Red Wine” and their version of Elvis Presley‘s “Can’t Help Falling in Love.” The band toured for nearly 30 years, and in 2008, frontman and fellow founder Campbell left the band. In 2008, Campbell formed a different version of the band with keyboardist Mickey Virtue. Astro joined them in 2013, and they toured under the name, UB40, featuring Ali, Astro, and Mickey.  

The group’s name was inspired by the attendance card given to people in the United Kingdom who were getting unemployment benefits. The card was called Unemployment Benefit, Form 40, according to a profile on the band in The Daily Telegraph

In an interview with The Guardian earlier this year, Wilson talked about the issues of Black lives in America, noting that as a Black man, he often had racial issues growing up in England in the 1970s.

“It was a weekly occurrence,” he said. “We found it harder to write love songs than militant lyrics because it was a lot easier to write about stuff you had witnessed or read about. It seemed natural to us.”

UB40 noted that their music brought the group a lot of scrutiny in their youth, including from MI5, the UK’s domestic counter-intelligence and security agency. Drummer Jimmy Brown said, “We thought, ‘Haven’t they got criminals to catch?’ We were just a bunch of potheads, smoking weed and playing music. We weren’t planning the revolution, but if the revolution happened, we knew what side we were going to be on.”

Have you subscribed to theGrio podcasts “Dear Culture” or “Acting Up?” Download our newest episodes now!
TheGrio is now on Apple TV, Amazon Fire and Roku. Download theGrio.com today!

Loading the player...