Garth Dennis, leader of reggae band Black Uhuru, dies at 72

The Jamaican music legend helped pioneer "electro reggae," a fusion of reggae and electronic music in the 1980s.

Garth Dennis, the Jamaican music legend credited among the architects of “electro reggae,” a fusion of reggae and electronic music conveyed by his world-renowned band Black Uhuru, has died. He was 72.

His death was announced on Saturday by Olivia Grange, Jamaica’s culture minister. “I offer my condolences to his wife, members of the Jamaican music fraternity, and the present members of both Black Uhuru and The Wailing Souls,” Grange said in a statement.

The cause of death is not known. 

Garth Dennis, a Jamaican musician credited among the architects of “electro reggae,” a fusion of reggae and electronic music conveyed by the world-renowned band Black Uhuru, has died. (Photo: Screenshot/E-Live Unplugged)

A native of Kingston, Dennis was born Rudolph Dennis in 1949. According to a report from Reuters, he spent most of his youth in the neighborhood of Trench Town — growing up alongside Bunny Livingston, Bob Marley and Peter Tosh — deemed the birthplace of reggae and rocksteady music. 

In the late 1960s, Dennis and musicians Don Carlos and Duckie Simpson formed Black Uhuru, a name inspired by the Swahili word for freedom. When the group didn’t experience immediate success, Dennis joined the Wailing Souls reggae band. He ultimately returned to Black Uhuru in the 1980s. 

The group then released their hit single, “Anthem,” in 1984, and it won the very first Grammy Award for Best Reggae Recording. 

Rolling Stone has ranked the group’s 1989 album Red as one of the 100 greatest albums of the 1980s. 

“This is really difficult for everyone who knows Garth,” international music business consultant Lloyd Stanbury told The Jamaica Gleaner. “Most of the musicians would have heard of Robbie Shakespeare’s passing two days prior, and they were united in many ways.” Stanbury said Black Uhuru’s Michael Rose, “who was with the group, having just lost Robbie, was in great distress to hear of another on Friday.”

As previously reported, iconic bassist Robbie Shakespeare, half of the rhythm team Sly & Robbie, died on December 9 from complications of kidney and liver transplants a year ago. Upon his passing, Grange said, “I am in shock and sorrow after just receiving the news that my friend and brother, the legendary bassist Robbie Shakespeare, has died.”

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

“Everyone is hurting to hear of Garth’s [passing],” Stanbury said, noting that the music community of Jamaica is “suffering a double blow.”

“Garth shared in two of the great groups that originated in that time and continued contributing to the music,” he continued. “Now, we see where his sons are also making their mark, following in his footsteps by founding a group, Blaze Mob, out of California. I can imagine it is hard on them and his wife.” 

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