11 Of The Greatest And Most Famous Jamaican Singers Of All Time

Written by Dan Farrant
Last updated

Reggae is a music genre that’s become synonymous with Jamaica. Artists including Bob Marley, Shaggy, and Sean Paul took the world and the music industry by storm with their one-of-a-kind style.

There have been so many Jamaican artists who’ve contributed great music to the world. But who are the 11 greatest and most famous Jamaican singers of all time? Keep reading to learn all about them!

1. Bob Marley

Robert Nesta Marley, known to his fans as Bob Marley, was a Jamaican musician and pioneer of reggae music. He was born on a farm in Nine Mile, Jamaica. By the time he and his mother moved to Trenchtown, he’d already started playing music.

Marley’s work shone a spotlight on Jamaican music and fueled the popularity of the ska and rocksteady genres. He recorded his first four songs in 1962, hitting global success when his band, the Wailers, released “I Shot the Sheriff.”

After an assassination attempt in 1976, Marley moved to England. His final album, Uprising, came out in 1980 and included “Buffalo Soldier.” Sadly, one year later, he died after a long battle with cancer. 

2. Shaggy

Jamaican-American reggae musician Shaggy was born Orville Richard Burrell in Kingston, Jamaica, but grew up in New York City.

In 1988, he became a crewman in the Marine Corps, and during his active years on duty, he was able to practice his distinct singing voice. After leaving the Marines, Shaggy decided to pursue a musical career.

In 1993, he released his first major hit, “Oh Carolina.” After that, he collaborated with several other industry professionals before releasing his biggest hit, “Boombastic,” in 1995.

Virgin Records dropped Shaggy in 1999, but he quickly moved to DreamWorks in 2000, when he released the hit song “It Wasn’t Me.” Unfortunately, none of his subsequent songs reached the same status as “Boombastic” or “It Wasn’t Me,” so he’s spent most of his recent years doing collaborations. 

3. Damian Marley

The youngest son of Bob Marley, Damian Robert Nesta Marley was born in Kingston in 1978. He’s a Jamaican singer, DJ, and rapper focusing on dancehall and reggae sounds. 

Marley started performing when he was 13, and his career quickly flourished. He spent two years with the Shephards before going solo in 1996. He released his debut album, Mr. Marley, then. His following album, Halfway Tree, won the 2002 Grammy for Best Reggae Album.

Marley became the first Jamaican musician to win two Grammys after receiving the award for Best Reggae Album and Best Urban/Alternative Performance with Welcome to Jamrock. His most recent release was 2017’s Stony Hill.

4. Sean Paul

Seal Paul Ryan Francis Henriques, known professionally as Sean Paul, is a Jamaican dancehall reggae rapper born in Kingston in 1973. Paul had an early love for swimming but gave up a career in water polo for singing when he was 21.

Paul was discovered in 1994 when he released his first hit, “Infiltrate.” The Billboard chart-topper “Get Busy” came out in 2003 to immediate success when it sold more than 6 million albums worldwide. 

Paul’s success has continued to increase since then. He’s released seven albums, with an eighth set to be dropped in 2022. In recent years, he’s done several collaborations with Spice and Shaggy. 

5. Spice

Born Grace Latoya Hamilton, Spice is a Jamaican dancehall and reggae singer from St. Catherine. She led her church’s choir as a child, which started her love of singing. She initially hoped to become an accountant but opted for music instead.

Spice’s first appearance was at the Sting music festival in 2000. After that, she released her first recorded single, “Complain,” in 2003. After seeing moderate success, she signed with VP Records in 2009. However, her first full studio album, 10, wasn’t released until 2021.

One of Spice’s significant accomplishments is that her single “So Mi Like It” was the most widely-viewed music video by a female Jamaican singer. She’s since released several other singles, and she’s also started to dabble in production. 

6. Bunny Wailer

Born Neville O’Riley Livingston in Kingston in 1947, Bunny Wailer was a reggae and ska singer and percussionist. Raised in Nine Mile, he became friends with future bandmate Bob Marley when he was a boy.

Wailer and Marley formed the Wailers in 1963, and the two traded off lead vocals during performances. He left the Wailers in 1973 to pursue a solo career that would keep him closer to home. He experimented with different sounds, including disco, but dancehall was his primary genre. 

Wailer received the Grammy Award for Best Reggae Album three times. Sadly, he suffered a stroke in 2018 that left him unable to sing. He had a second stroke in 2020 and died less than a year later.

7. Peter Tosh

Winston Hubert McIntosh, better known as Peter Tosh, was born in Kingston in 1944. Despite having a rough start in life when his parents abandoned him, he sought out music lessons. Those lessons helped start his career when he was 15.

Tosh was a member of the Wailers along with Bunny Wailer and Bob Marley. His skill as a songwriter led to hits that included “Get Up, Stand Up” and “No Sympathy.”

Aside from his success with the Wailers, he also saw success as a solo artist. He released his first solo album, Equal Rights, in 1977. However, fame wasn’t something for him, and he sought an exit from the music industry in 1984 after releasing his final album, Mama Africa.

Tosh died tragically in 1987 when he was murdered by Dennis “Leppo” Lobban. In 2012, Tosh was posthumously awarded the Order of Merit, Jamaica’s fourth highest honor. Perhaps the greatest honor is the Peter Tosh Museum in Kingston, which opened in 2016.

8. Sean Kingston

Kisean Paul Anderson is a Jamaican-American singer and songwriter who goes by Sean Kingston. He’s the grandson of Jamaican record producer Jack Ruby.

Kingston became YouTube famous in 2007 when he was discovered and signed by Sony. His hit single “Beautiful Girls” came out to huge commercial success the same year. Since then, he’s collaborated with artists including Justin Bieber, Flo Rida, and Zendaya.

Kingston announced his fourth studio album, Deliverance, in 2013. After a two-year hiatus, he released the single “Wait Up.” However, as of 2022, his fourth album is still forthcoming.

9. Gregory Isaacs

Hailed as the most exquisite vocalist in reggae, Gregory Isaacs is a Jamaican-born reggae and lovers rock singer from Kingston. He spent his teen years competing in talent contests across Jamaica, which was how he got his love for music. 

Isaacs released his first single, “Another Heartache,” in 1968 to minimal success. Things started to look up when he released “My Only Lover,” which was the first lovers rock record ever. His fame continued to rise, then he finally reached international success in 1978.

He spent much of the ’80s and ’90s collaborating with producers and other musicians. Unfortunately, his drug addictions had severe negative impacts on his voice, causing his career to take a downslide in the late 2000s. He died of lung cancer in 2010. 

10. Dennis Brown

Dubbed Crown Prince of Reggae by reggae legend Bob Marley, Dennis Brown was influential for many singers of the genre and lovers rock.

He started his career young, at the tender age of 11, and went on to international fame with his song “Money in My Pocket” in 1972. The following year, he was Swing magazine listed him as Jamaica’s top male vocalist.

From his start to the late 1990s, Brown dropped a ton of albums—75 in total. Sadly, during the ’90s his health began to decline, and in 1999, the reggae icon passed away.

11. Marcia Griffiths

Jamaican reggae musician Marcia Griffiths was born in Kingston in 1949. She became known for singing in her neighborhood growing up, which led to the start of her career in 1964.

Much of Griffiths’ earlier work consisted of duets with other singers, including Bob Marley and Tony Gregory. From 1974 to 1981, she was a backup singer for Bob Marley and the Wailers. During that time, she started recording solo work.

Her most well-known song is a cover of Bunny Wailer’s “Electric Boogie.” She released this song in 1983, and it was later remixed into the internationally known line dance, the “Electric Slide.” Her most recent release was in 2019, titled Timeless.

Summing Up Our List Of Best Singers From Jamaica

Jamaican musicians have given the world a sound like nothing else you’ll hear in the music industry.

From funky reggae to catchy ska, the musicians listed here have left a lasting impact on reggae music, and they will continue to influence those who come after them well into the future.

Have we left off a singer that should be on this list? Let us know and we’ll be sure to add them!

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Dan Farrant, the founder of Hello Music Theory, has been teaching music for over 15 years, helping hundreds of thousands of students unlock the joy of music. He graduated from The Royal Academy of Music in 2012 and then launched Hello Music Theory in 2014. He plays the guitar, piano, bass guitar and double bass and loves teaching music theory.