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 15 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, who was born Robert Nesta Marley in 1945.
He was born in St. Ann, Jamaica, to a white father and a Jamaican mother. He dropped out of school to focus and pursue his music career.
His success started from his work with reggae band Bob Marley and The Wailers which was formed in the early 60s.
They were prolific in producing music throughout the 60s and 70s with hits like “Is This Love,” “Jamming,” “One Love,” “Could You Be Loved,” and “No Woman No Cry” among many others.
Even after his passing, his name remains synonymous with reggae with is a testament to the brilliance of his music and impact on the music world.
2. Peter Tosh
Winston Hubert McIntosh, also known as Peter Tosh, was another member of The Wailers, along with Bob Marley. Even today, his commanding voice remains unmatched.
After leaving The Wailers, he launched a successful solo career, even duetting with Mick Jagger while touring with the Rolling Stones.
Aside from being one of the most successful reggae artists to date, Tosh was known to give speeches that criticized some politicians.
He had a lot of success in his own right and was known for his songs “Stepping Razor,” “Equal Rights,” and his cover song of Chuck Berry’s song “Johnny B. Goode.”
As well, he was a proponent of marijuana legalization, and his song “Legalize it” became a hit internationally.
3. Desmond Dekker
Another important Reggae singer was Desmond Dekker who was one of reggae’s earliest mainstream stars.
He became famous for singing in his authentic Jamaican dialect on classics such as “It Miek” and “Israelites.”
Dekker was credited for introducing rude boy culture to Britain and other parts of the world and paved the way for reggae singers such as Bob Marley to become mainstream. In many ways, he was a trailblazer.
Dekker continued performing and wowing audiences around the world into the 2000s.
4. 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.
Isaacs first found fame after performing for The Concords, who broke up after a few years. His steady rise to fame started in 1978 when he signed to Virgin Record’s Front Line.
Isaacs released timeless classics such as “My Only Lover” and “Night Nurse.”
He attributed his unique style to R&B artists such as Percy Sledge, Sam Cooke, and Alton Ellis, among many others.
He toured all over the world and became one of reggae’s most successful performers.
5. Jimmy Cliff
Jamaican-born James Chambers, also known by his stage name Jimmy Cliff, is the only living reggae artist to have received the Jamaican Order of Merit, which is granted by the Jamaican government to people who have had great achievements in science and art.
Cliff’s first hit song was “Hurricane Hattie,” which he recorded at just 14. He introduced millions of people to reggae music after performing in the landmark movie “The Harder They Come” in 1972.
Throughout his career, Cliff has enjoyed particularly high popularity in South America and Africa. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2020.
6. Dennis Brown
Born in Kingston, Dennis Brown grew up in a street that had a lot of recording studio activity.
From a young age, he was exposed to the Jamaican music scene, and he began performing with big names like Byron Lee and The Dragonaires at only nine years old.
After turning 11, he released a cover of “No Man Is An Island,” which instantly became a hit.
In his prolific career, Brown was able to work with major producers like Joe Gibbs and Derrick Harriott. His rise to fame intensified after Bob Marley declared him as his personal favorite.
7. Burning Spear
Winston Rodney, also known as Burning Spear, is another reggae singer with Jamaican roots.
Like many of his fellow compatriots, he is best known for showcasing Rastafari messages.
Burning Spear was the name of his group, which was inspired by Jomo Kenyatta, the first President and Prime Minister of an independent Kenya.
Since the start of his career, he has been a vocal advocate against oppression and he is one of the most popular proponents of African activism.
Spear was nominated for a Grammy for his song “Rasta Business” in 2005, and he won a Grammy for his song “Calling Rastafari” and “Jah Is Real” in 2000 and 2009, respectively.
Frederick Nathaniel Hibbert, popularly known as Toots, was one of the most distinctive Jamaican reggae singers.
Toots was from May Pen, Jamaica, and had a significant influence on reggae and ska gaining popularity for his energetic, funky, and soulful vocals.
When he was a teenager, he formed “The Maytals.” His electrifying performances continue to be a favorite of many reggae music lovers.
Some of his most popular songs include “Do The Reggay,” as well as his rendition of “I Can’t Stand the Rain,” and “(I’ve Got) Dreams to Remember.”
Sizzla Kalonji, born Miguel Collins, is considered one of the most prolific pioneers and leaders of the dancehall movement whose popularity boomed in the latter half of the 1990s.
Born in St. Mary and raised in August Town, he grew up witnessing the dancehall explosion in the 1980s, and music became his lifestyle.
In his early teenage years, he began his career and made a name for himself. He also toured extensively with Luciano, which earned him critical acclaim.
His most famous albums include “Praise Ye Jah” and “Freedom Cry,” proving that nobody mixes dancehall rhythms and Rasta principles better than him.
10. 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.
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 called “Rock N’ Groove.”
Up until today, he is considered one of the most popular reggae legends of all time.
11. Marcia Griffiths
Also known as the empress of reggae music, Marsha Griffiths boasts a career that spans over 40 years, and she isn’t stopping.
She started as a soloist, then became a vocalist for Byron Lee and The Dragonaires. Soon after, she launched her solo career and recorded hits such as “Feel Like Jumping.”
Griffiths grew in popularity after starting a duo with Bob Andy. As well, she toured with Bob Marley as a member of I-threes and made the billboard charts with “Electric Boogie Song.”
She’s also credited with creating the “electric slide” dance.
12. Ziggy Marley
As the eldest son of Bob Marley, it comes as no surprise that Ziggy Marley has thrived in the reggae scene.
This artist has made a name for himself in the industry and has even won several Grammy awards.
Shortly after his father’s death, he and his siblings formed the Melody Makers. In 1998, their album “Conscious Party” helped them become mainstream.
The younger Marley pushed with his solo career in 2006, recording more albums such as “Dragonfly” and “Love Is My Religion.”
He continues to release music both as a solo singer and alongside family members, as well as with other singers such as Donna Summer.
13. Janet Kay
Janey Kay Bogie’s first recordings were under Alton Ellis, whom she met at a serendipitous meeting with members of Aswad.
The collaboration between the two resulted in “Loving You,” which became a reggae chart-topper.
Kay is considered the prototype for lovers of rock thanks to her beautiful, spirited vocals that float over bass lines.
While she had a few hits with “I Do Love You” and “That’s What Friends Are For,” it wasn’t until “Silly Games” that she made her breakthrough.
Despite her low profile during the 80s and 90s, she remains loved by reggae fans.
Born Orville Richard Burrell in 1968, Shaggy is known for emerging as the most successful crossover artist in dancehall reggae in the 90s.
During this time, he became one of the most internationally recognizable artists, sustaining his success through hits such as “Boombastic,” “Angel,” and “It Wasn’t Me.”
While Shaggy may be unique from traditional reggae artists, his catchy party anthems are still undeniably successful.
He’s also not afraid to add variety in his music. This characteristic has made him one of the most well-loved reggae artists in the US.
And finally, Winston Foster whose also known as King Yellow or Yellowman was initially shunned by the industry because of his albinism.
However, that did not stop him from showcasing his talent and building a lasting musical career.
Producer Henry “Junjo” Lawes was enamored by his skill and signed him as the first dancehall artist in Columbia Records.
Some of his hits include “Zungguzungguguzungguzeng,” “Nobody Move Nobody Get Hurt,” and “Them A Mad Over Me.”
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.