Reggae is one of the most distinctive music styles around with its huge emphasis on hypnotic percussion and bass, as well as steady rhythm. In many ways, reggae gives its listeners a sense of happiness.
When you put on reggae music, it feels like you are enjoying the day out in the sun somewhere in the Caribbean. However, reggae is much more than that. Often, its songs explore important topics such as social justice, politics, and Rastafarianism.
If you want to explore this genre more, in this post, we’re going to be taking a look at the lives and careers of 21 of the greatest and most famous Reggae singers of all time. Let’s get started!
1. Bob Marley
Any list of reggae singers would not be complete without the iconic Bob Marley. Born Robert Nesta Marley in 1945 to a white father and a Jamaican mother, Bob Marley went on to become one of the most influential figures in the history of reggae music.
His success started from his work with the reggae band Bob Marley and The Wailers, alongside reggae singers Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer. They were prolific in producing music throughout the ’60s and ’70s, with hits like “Is This Love,” “Jamming,” and “No Woman No Cry,” among many others.
Marley’s music was characterized by its fusion of reggae, ska, rocksteady, and elements of Rastafarian spirituality. His powerful lyrics often touched upon themes of oppression, poverty, and unity.
Beyond his musical contributions, Bob Marley played a vital role in popularizing reggae globally. Tragically, Bob Marley’s life was cut short by cancer, and he passed away on May 11, 1981, at the age of 36. Despite his untimely death, his legacy continues to thrive.
2. Peter Tosh
A good friend of Bob Marley, Winston Hubert McIntosh, also known as Peter Tosh, was among the founding members of the reggae band The Wailers. As a group, they released a few notable singles, including “Simmer Down,” which became a chart-topping hit in Jamaica.
After leaving The Wailers, Tosh embarked on a successful solo career that showcased his immense talent. One notable milestone in Tosh’s career was his collaboration with Mick Jagger, the iconic frontman of the Rolling Stones.
Aside from his musical achievements, Tosh was also renowned for his outspoken nature and his willingness to use his platform to criticize politicians and advocate for social justice. He was also a proponent of marijuana legalization, and his song “Legalize It” became an international hit.
However, Tosh’s life tragically ended when he was murdered during a home invasion on September 11, 1987. His legacy, however, continues to live on through his timeless music and his unwavering commitment to fighting for the rights of the oppressed.
3. Bunny Wailer
Another founding member of The Wailers, Neville O’Riley Livingston, or Bunny Wailer, was born in the Nine Mile District of St. Ann Parish. This laid the foundation for his deep connection to the roots of reggae music.
Growing up in this rural area of Jamaica, he was immersed in the island’s vibrant culture and musical traditions from an early age. It was during his childhood that he formed a close bond with Bob Marley and Peter Tosh, two other influential figures in the reggae movement.
As teenagers, Bunny, Bob, and Peter shared a common interest in music and decided to form a band, eventually leading to the formation of The Wailers years later. In 1974, The Wailers underwent some significant changes. Bunny decided to pursue a solo career, and he left the group.
Also known as Jah B, his album Blackheart Man was well-received by fans when he released it after going solo. He followed this release with great hits, including songs from his dancehall tempo album Rock N’ Groove.
4. Desmond Dekker
Another important Reggae singer was Desmond Dekker, who was one of reggae’s earliest mainstream stars. Dekker’s rise to fame in the 1960s marked a turning point for reggae music, as he brought the infectious rhythms and soulful lyrics of Jamaica to a global audience.
In 1963, Desmond Dekker joined forces with his group, The Aces, which consisted of Wilson James and Easton Barrington Howard. Together, they crafted a unique sound that blended ska and rocksteady, two popular genres at the time.
In 1967, Dekker released “007 (Shanty Town),” a song that would propel him to international fame. The following year, in 1968, Desmond Dekker and The Aces achieved even greater success with their song “Israelites.”
“Israelites” became an anthem for the working class, especially those from the Caribbean diaspora. The song’s success opened doors for other reggae artists to gain recognition and eventually led to the global recognition of Bob Marley and the Wailers.
He continued making music through the years, until his passing in 2006, leaving behind a remarkable legacy.
5. Gregory Isaacs
Considered one of Jamaica’s most beloved musicians, Gregory Isaacs was not only a king of reggae but also of lovers rock, a genre he pioneered. This genre, characterized by its smooth and romantic sound, provided an alternative to the politically charged and socially conscious reggae music of the time.
His breakthrough came when he released the iconic single “My Only Lover.” The song not only topped the Jamaican charts but also gained international acclaim, introducing Isaacs to a broader audience. He quickly followed up with more hits like “Love Is Overdue” and “Night Nurse.”
Despite his undeniable musical genius, he battled personal struggles, including drug addiction and legal issues. These challenges took a toll on his career, but he managed to maintain a loyal fan base and continued to produce music that touched the hearts of listeners worldwide.
In 2010, however, the music world mourned the loss of Gregory Isaacs when he passed away after battling lung cancer. His untimely death left a void in the reggae and lovers rock community, but his legacy lives on.
6. Jimmy Cliff
Jamaican-born James Chambers, also known by his stage name Jimmy Cliff, is the only living reggae artist to have received the Order of Merit, which is granted by the Jamaican government to people who have had great achievements in science and art.
Cliff’s meteoric rise to stardom began with “Hurricane Hattie,” a song he recorded at the young age of 14. But it was his timeless classic, “Many Rivers to Cross” that cemented his status as a reggae icon and established him as a prominent figure in the global music scene.
One of his most memorable contributions was the 1972 film The Harder They Come, in which Cliff played the lead role and contributed to the soundtrack. The film introduced reggae music and the unique Jamaican culture to a broader international audience
Beyond his musical achievements, Jimmy Cliff remained actively involved in humanitarian and social justice causes. He used his platform to advocate for peace, justice, and equality, not only in Jamaica but globally.
7. Dennis Brown
Born in Kingston, Jamaica, Dennis Brown grew up in a street that had a lot of recording studio activity. From a tender age, he exhibited a natural talent for music, charming neighbors and friends.
His extraordinary gift was recognized early on by local musicians and producers, leading him to record his first hit song at the tender age of 11, making him the youngest reggae artist to achieve such a feat. He released a cover of “No Man Is An Island,” which instantly became a hit.
As Brown’s fame grew, he effortlessly navigated between various sub-genres of reggae, infusing his music with elements of ska, rocksteady, and lovers rock, earning him the affectionate nickname Crown Prince of Reggae. His rise to fame intensified after Bob Marley declared him his favorite.
His partnership with legendary producer Joe Gibbs resulted in a string of chart-topping hits that solidified his position as a reggae superstar. Songs like “Revolution,” “Here I Come,” and “Love Has Found Its Way” became anthems of hope and social change during challenging times.
8. Burning Spear
Winston Rodney, also known as Burning Spear, is another reggae singer with Jamaican roots. Born in Saint Ann’s Bay, Jamaica, his early life was steeped in the rich cultural heritage of the island, which laid the foundation for his iconic career.
The name “Burning Spear” was actually the name of his group, which was inspired by Jomo Kenyatta, the first President and Prime Minister of an independent Kenya. As Burning Spear and his group began to gain recognition, the name itself became synonymous with Winston Rodney.
Since the start of his career, he and his group have been vocal advocates against oppression, and Burning Spear himself is one of the most popular proponents of African activism.
The group’s powerful anthems, such as “Slavery Days” and “Marcus Garvey,” not only celebrated the strength of African heritage but also shed light on the historical struggles faced by black communities across the world.
Even beyond the band’s peak years, Burning Spear carried on as a solo artist, releasing albums with the same fervor and dedication. His performances remained powerful, and his music remained timeless, speaking to new generations and keeping the flames of reggae alive.
Regarded as one of the pioneers in reggae, Frederick Nathaniel Hibbert was the lead vocalist of the 1960s ska band Toots And The Maytals. Hibbert was better known as Toots, and his powerful, soulful voice became synonymous with the essence of reggae music.
One of the band’s breakthrough moments came in 1968 when they released the iconic song “Do The Reggay.” It is widely believed that this was the first time the term “reggae” was used in a song, further popularizing the genre’s name.
Toots’ music often carried messages of love, unity, and social consciousness, making him not only an influential artist but also a voice of change during a time of social and political unrest in Jamaica.
Throughout his career, Toots received numerous accolades and awards for his contributions to music. In 2005, he was awarded the Order of Distinction by the Jamaican government for his outstanding achievements.
Born in St. Mary and raised in August Town, Sizzla Kalonji was exposed to the struggles and challenges faced by the people in his community. This played a significant role in shaping his music and lyrics.
As he honed his musical talents, he also embraced the Rastafarian way of life, advocating for social justice, equality, and spirituality through his music.
In his teenage years, he began his career and made a name for himself. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Sizzla rose to international prominence with a series of successful tracks like “I’m Living” and “Just One Of Those Days.” He also toured extensively with reggae singer Luciano, which earned him critical acclaim.
Sizzla’s enduring passion for music has kept him actively involved in the industry up to this day. Among his greatest sources of pride are his two sons, popularly known as Reemus k and Skorcha respectively, who have also chosen to pursue careers in music.
11. Marcia Griffiths
Also known as the Empress of Reggae, Marsha Griffiths boasts a career that spans over six decades, and her passion for music shows no signs of waning.
In the early 1960s, while still a teenager, Marsha Griffiths caught the attention of music producer Clement “Sir Coxsone” Dodd, who recognized her exceptional voice and potential. In 1968, Griffiths released her first solo single, “Feel Like Jumping,” which was met with moderate success in Jamaica.
It was her duo with reggae vocalist Bob Andy that propelled her career to new heights. Bob and Marcia’s rendition of Nina Simone’s “To Be Young, Gifted, And Black,” infused with the infectious rhythms of reggae, soared the UK Pop charts.
In the mid-1970s, Bob Marley invited Marcia Griffiths to join the I-Threes, a female vocal trio that became an integral part of Bob Marley’s performances and recordings.
As a solo artist, Griffiths released numerous successful albums and singles, including hits like “Electric Boogie,” which became widely popular and is often associated with line-dancing to the famous “electric slide” choreography.
12. Ziggy Marley
As the eldest son of reggae legend Bob Marley, it comes as no surprise that Ziggy Marley has thrived in the reggae scene. At a young age, Ziggy began performing with his siblings in the band “The Melody Makers.”
With Ziggy as the lead vocalist and rhythm guitarist, they started crafting their unique blend of reggae, incorporating elements of soul, pop, and R&B into their sound. Their breakthrough came in 1988 with the album Conscious Party, which earned them their first Grammy Award for Best Reggae Album.
In 2003, Ziggy released his solo debut album, Dragonfly, which showcased his growth as an artist. Ziggy continued to build on his artistic growth and released more tracks like “Love Is My Religion” and “Beach In Hawaii,” which further solidified his position as a prominent figure in the reggae scene.
He continues to release music both as a solo singer and alongside family members and has collaborated with numerous artists across various genres, from hip-hop to rock.
13. Janet Kay
The Queen of Lovers Rock, Janet Kay began her musical journey at a young age, singing in her church choir and immersing herself in the diverse musical scene of her native London.
Her breakthrough came in 1979 with her timeless lovers rock song, “Silly Games.” The song became an instant classic, topping the UK charts and making her the first British-born black female artist to achieve such a feat.
Through the years, Janet Kay continued to churn out hit after hit, enchanting audiences not only in the UK but also around the world. Her songs, like “Loving You,” “Eternally Grateful,” and “You Bring The Sun Out,” became staples in reggae music.
Beyond her musical talents, Janet Kay also became an inspiration and role model for aspiring artists, especially women of color. Her passion for creativity and her determination to empower others led her to be a founding member of BiBi Crew, Britain’s first theatre troupe made up entirely of Black women.
Born Orville Richard Burrell in 1968, Shaggy is known for emerging as the most successful crossover artist in dancehall reggae in the early 1990s. With an unparalleled knack for infusing reggae with a modern twist, he quickly rose to prominence.
The 1990s to the early 2000s were a defining era for Shaggy, characterized by a string of chart-topping hits that solidified his position as a music icon. These include songs like “Boombastic,” “Angel,” and “It Wasn’t Me.”
One of Shaggy’s most endearing qualities is his ability to embrace musical diversity fearlessly. While staying true to his reggae roots, he has fearlessly ventured into various genres, collaborating with artists from different backgrounds. This includes Sean Paul, Olly Mur, Nicky Jam, and RikRok.
Apart from his music career, Shaggy has also ventured into acting. He appeared in the 2004 film Blast, showcasing his talent beyond the music world. Additionally, he has been involved in voice acting, lending his voice to various characters in animated films and TV shows.
Winston “Yellowman” Foster, born with albinism in 1956, faced considerable challenges from an early age due to the prejudices surrounding his condition, especially in his native Jamaica. Despite this, he found solace in expressing himself through song and dance.
In the early 1970s, he began performing at local events and open-mic sessions, earning the nickname “King Yellow” due to his albinism. Soon, the moniker evolved into “Yellowman,” which he later embraced as his stage name.
Yellowman’s breakthrough finally arrived when he won the annual Tastee Talent Contest in Jamaica. Producer Henry “Junjo” Lawes was enamored by his skill and signed him as the first dancehall artist in Columbia Records.
Yellowman’s star power continued to rise, not only in Jamaica but also internationally. He has since cranked hit after hit, including “Zungguzungguguzungguzeng,” “Nobody Move Nobody Get Hurt,” and “Them A Mad Over Me.”
16. Jacob Miller
Renowned as the frontman for the Jamaican band Inner Circle, Jacob Miller had an interest in music at a young age. When his family moved to Kingston, Jamaica, when he was eight, Miller quickly became immersed in the vibrant music scene of the city.
His passion for music grew exponentially, and he started performing with local groups and aspiring musicians. His talent soon caught the attention of the right people, and he was introduced to Sir Coxsone, the founder of Studio One, one of Jamaica’s most influential record labels.
At 13 years old, Miller released his debut single, “Love Is A Message,” which received modest success locally. In the early 1970s, he joined the renowned band Inner Circle as their lead vocalist.
Tragically, Jacob Miller’s life was cut short at the age of 27 in 1980 when he died in a car accident. His untimely passing was a great loss to the reggae community, but his legacy continued to live on through his music.
Regarded as part of the second generation of roots reggae artists, Jepther McClymont is otherwise popularly known by his stage name Luciano. In the early stages of his career in 1992, he was credited as Stepper John in his debut single “Ebony And Ivory.”
It was the following year that brought Luciano to the spotlight, with his chart-topping hit “Shake It Up Tonight” from his seminal album Moving Up. The album Luciano’s unique style of conscious and spiritually-inspired lyrics, earning him comparisons to the legendary Bob Marley.
Often referred to as “The Messenger” or “Jah Messenger,” Luciano used his platform to address social and political issues, promoting awareness and encouraging positive change.
Apart from his solo career, Luciano collaborated with many renowned artists, such as Sizzla, Capleton, and Anthony B, contributing to the growth and development of the conscious reggae movement of the late 1990s and early 2000s.
18. Beres Hammond
Jamaican reggae singer Beres Hammond began honing his skills and passion for music, performing in local talent shows as a teenager. It wasn’t long before he caught the attention of music producers who recognized his potential.
In 1976, he released his debut album, Soul Reggae, which was well-received by fans and critics alike. Following this success, he released several hit songs thereafter, such as “Tempted To Touch,” “Rock Away,” and “They Gonna Talk.”
Fueling his unwavering dedication to the craft, Beres took a bold step in his career and founded his own record label, Harmony House Records, in 1985. The label would go on to become a hub for reggae artists, showcasing Hammond’s visionary leadership in the reggae community.
Apart from his solo career, Beres Hammond collaborated with other reggae artists and musicians, such as Buju Banton, Marcia Griffiths, and Maxi Priest, further contributing to the genre’s growth and popularity on the international stage.
19. Freddie McGregor
Also known as Little Freddie, Freddie McGregor had an early start in his music career. At only seven years old, McGregor was part of the 1960s ska band The Clarendonians.
Around the same time, McGregor joined the renowned Studio One, a legendary recording studio and label responsible for shaping Jamaica’s music history. During this period, he worked with some of the biggest names in reggae music, including Coxsone Dodd and Bob Marley and The Wailers.
Not soon after, he released his debut studio album, Bobby Bobylon, which featured a mix of roots reggae and lovers rock, showcasing his versatility as an artist. Throughout the late ’80s, McGregor’s career flourished, creating hits such as “Big Ship,” “Push Comes To Shove,” and “Just Don’t Want to Be Lonely.”
In 1983, he made a significant mark on the Jamaican music scene by founding his own record label, Big Ship. Among the notable reggae and dancehall artists who found a home at Big Ship with McGregor as their producer were Papa San, Luciano, and Lieutenant Stitchie.
20. Horace Andy
Born Horace Keith Hinds in Jamaica, Horace Andy began recording in the late 1960s to limited success. It was in the 1970s that he began to see his efforts to fruition, eventually leading him to adopt his stage name.
He released numerous successful solo albums since then, including Skylarking and In the Light, earning him a reputation as one of reggae’s most talented and respected artists.
In 1990, Andy joined the English trip-hop band Massive Attack. As their vocalist with reggae roots, Andy has seamlessly bridged two musical worlds, enriching the band’s distinctive sound. Lending his soulful vocals on the tracks “Angel” and “Splitting The Atom,” the songs become staples in their live performances.
Horace Andy’s solo discography has continued to grow, with each new release showcasing his timeless talent and the evolution of his artistic expression. To this day, Andy remains an active in the music industry. He recently released a new album in 2022, Midnight Rocker, a testament to his enduring artistry.
21. Alton Ellis
The Godfather of Rocksteady, Alton Ellis was a prominent figure in the burgeoning reggae scene in Jamaica in the early ’60s. He began his career as one of the duo of Andy & Eddy, alongside singer Eddy Parkins. Alton’s exceptional vocal range was showcased in their hit song “Muriel.”
As the early ska rhythm evolved into rocksteady during the mid-’60s, Ellis continued to excel and embrace this new musical style. He soon released one of his most famous singles, “Girl I’ve Got a Date,” which became a massive hit both in Jamaica and the UK.
As the 1970s approached, reggae music started to gain prominence, and Alton Ellis transitioned effortlessly into this new wave of Jamaican music. He continued to release chart-topping singles, many of which dealt with themes of love, heartbreak, and social issues of the time.
At the age of 70, however, Ellis passed away after battling Hodgkin’s disease. His untimely departure left a profound void in the music world, but his legacy and influence continue to resonate strongly.
Summing Up Our List Of Great Reggae Singers
Reggae music has come a long way from its roots in Jamaica. Now, it has become a well-loved genre all over the world, and it has been hugely influential in today’s modern music.
With this list of some of the best reggae singers of all time on hand, you can get your playlist ready to jam!