Robbie Shakespeare, reggae bassist of Sly and Robbie, dies at 68

"We kept praying for a miracle, but it was not enough," said Shakespeare's manager and producer.

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Famed bass player Robbie Shakespeare, one half of the pioneering reggae band Sly and Robbie, has died at age 68.

Shakespeare’s manager confirmed he passed away in Miami on Wednesday due to complications from kidney and liver transplants a year ago, CNN reports

Robbie Shakespeare theGRIO.com
Robbie Shakespeare (Credit: YouTube screenshot)

“We kept praying for a miracle, but it was not enough,” said Guillaume Bougard, Shakespeare’s friend, manager, and producer. “This is very tough,” he said in a statement to CNN. Per the report, Bougard described Shakespeare as his “friend and mentor” and an “absolute musical wizard.”

Shakespeare, born Robert Warren Dale Shakespeare in East Kingston, Jamaica, and was a renowned bassist best known as the rhythm section for Sly and Robbie, a band he formed with longtime friend and drummer Sly Dunbar.

For over four decades, the prolific musician worked with reggae artists including Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, Gregory Isaacs, and Black Uhuru. He also played alongside rock and pop stars including Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, and Grace Jones.

During his career, Shakespeare received 13 Grammy nominations and took home two awards, Best Reggae Recording in 1984 and Best Reggae Album in 1998. Sly and Robbie also produced music for several movie soundtracks, including Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Poetic Justice, according to BBC.

Shakespeare’s home country is mourning his passing on social media after his death was announced on Twitter by Olivia Grange, Jamaica’s minister of culture, gender, entertainment & sport. Grange said in a statement Wednesday: “I am in shock and sorrow after just receiving the news that my friend and brother, the legendary bassist Robbie Shakespeare has died.”

She added: “Robbie’s loss will be felt by the industry at home and abroad. He will be sorely missed.”

Grange said Sly and Robbie were “among Jamaica’s greatest musicians.” She added: “This fantastic team took bass playing and drumming to the highest level as they made music for themselves as a group, and for many other artistes locally and internationally.”

Prime Minister Andrew Holness also paid tribute on Twitter: “When it comes to Reggae bass playing, no one comes close to having the influence of Robbie Shakespeare. He will be remembered for his sterling contribution to the music industry and Jamaica’s culture. May his soul Rest In Peace.”

“Big, big loss,” Black Uhuru’s Michael Rose told Rolling Stone. “Nobody sounds like Robbie. He had the wickedest bass. You’ll never find nothing like that again.”

Last year, Shakespeare was mentioned in Rolling Stone’s “50 greatest bassists of all time.” 

Bougard called the late musician “the most prolific bass player in history,” and noted that Shakespeare “played bass on, and produced, more than 30,000 tracks for artists ranging from Bob Marley to Bob Dylan, Peter Tosh to Paul McCartney, Black Uhuru to Madonna among thousands of others.”

He added, “He was mentored early in his career by Aston Barrett, Bob Marley’s bassist, and quickly found his own signature — heavy, yet musical, thunderous yet sweet.”

“Words cannot describe the sadness we feel at the loss of our dear friend Robbie,” said English drummer Zak Starkey, son of The Beatles drummer Ringo Starr.  “A giant of a man who brought deep outta space bass to the world and so much great times to us in Jamaica. We will miss you so. Truly thankful to u for yr massive part in our music — we could not have done it without you,” Starkey wrote on Instagram.

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