Robbie Shakespeare, Legendary Bass Player Who Formed Sly & Robbie, Dies at 68

Robbie Shakespeare, the two-time Grammy Award-winning bass player, record producer, and one half of the iconic rhythm section Sly & Robbie, died Wednesday (Dec. 8) at the age of 68.

The late musician is remembered as one of the all-time greats on the bass guitar, and for shaping the sounds of reggae and dancehall music, across a career that earned him 13 Grammy nominations, snagging wins in 1984 and 1985.

Jamaica’s Culture Minister Olivia Grange remarked that Shakespeare was among the country’s “greatest musicians.”

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“[Sly and Robbie] 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,” Grange comments in a social post. “Robbie’s loss will be severely felt by the industry at home and abroad.”

Jamaica’s Prime Minister Andrew Holness paid tribute to the “legendary” artist for playing a “significant role” in recording and producing albums for various reggae artists.

“When it comes to reggae bass playing, no one comes close to having the influence of Robbie Shakespeare,” Holness notes. “He will be remembered for his sterling contribution to the music industry and Jamaica’s culture.”

Shakespeare had a gift for working with others, from Madonna to Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, Peter Tosh, Bunny Wailer, Grace Jones and many others, and his talents on a four-string were incomparable. When Shakespeare played, other musicians watched and learned.

In 2018, fellow bass player Sting, frontman of The Police, proudly tweeted of how Shakespeare had borrowed his bass for recording sessions with Shaggy, a moment he described as “an honour.”

Indeed, Shakespeare came in at No. 17 in Rolling Stone’s feature on The 50 Greatest Bassists of All Time list, published in July 2020.

Born into a musical family in Jamaica’s capital Kingston in 1953, Shakespeare learned his craft under the mentorship of Aston “Family Man” Barrett, of The Wailers and The Upsetters. In the mid-‘70s, he joined forces with Sly Dunbar for Sly & Robbie, the innovative — and in-demand — rhythm section and production duo that laid down the groundwork for reggae and dub.

Shakespeare died in Florida where he had recently been in hospital for kidney surgery, the Jamaica Gleaner reports.

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