Legendary reggae vocalist John Kenneth Holt, better known simply as John Holt, died on Sunday at the age of 67. Holt’s manager Copeland Forbes confirmed the singer’s death but the cause of death is as yet unknown. “John died at 2.40am English time. [John's] nephew informed [us] of his death,” Forbes told a Jamaican newspaper.
Holt had created concern for his health when he collapsed on stage at the Springfield One Love Concert in August this year. It is known that he had been battling with poor health for a while and following his collapse he underwent surgery and was staying in London whilst he recovered.
Holt was born on 11 July 1947 Greenwich Farm, Kingston, Jamaica and proved extremely successful at local talent competitions as a young boy. Holt soon attracted the attention of singer and songwriter Bob Andy, who was instrumental in propelling Holt to stardom. Andy has described Holt’s voice as having “a velveted tone” and as being “the most unique balladeer voice in Jamaican music. Across the board, he was the voice of our era."
Holt’s music career kicked off in the 1960s, when rocksteady was immensely popular, as the leader singer of the Paragons. It was as a member of this group that Holt wrote and sang the song ‘The Tide is High,’ which was famously covered by Blondie and, more recently, others. Holt also wrote other hit songs from the group, including ‘Ali Baba’.
In 1970 Holt made the decision to become a solo reggae artist and immediately this proved a worthwhile move. Holt’s journey to become one of the biggest reggae icons largely began with his 1972 track ‘Stick By Me’. Recorded with producer Bunny Lee, the song became the biggest-selling record that year in Jamaica. Holt’s 1973 album of the same name proved to be a hit.
Aside from his touring Holt’s name partly became well-established here in the UK because he was the first Jamaican artist, along with fellow reggae legend Freddy McGregor, to perform with London's Royal Symphony Orchestra.
Holt, who was noted for his great live performances, had a remarkable 40 albums to his name. His last solo album, Peacemaker, was released in 1993.
Since the announcement of Holt’s death, tributes have poured in from musicians and those who knew him from around the world. Jamaican rapper Shaggy tweeted: "We have lost a legend. Very instrumental part of our reggae history! You'll be missed." Jamaican artist Sean Paul also paid his respects to the late singer, saying: "RIP Sir John Holt. You have served your culture well. I salute you." Fellow reggae artists UB40 have said that Holt was a "massive inspiration and will be sorely missed". Record company Trojan Records, who released most of Holt’s albums, have called the singer "a huge talent and a true gentleman".
Holt performing his massive hit 'Stick By Me' live with the
London Royal Symphony Orchestra