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*Bunny Wailer was born on this date in 1947. He was a Black Jamaican singer-songwriter and percussionist.
He was also known as Jah B, Bunny O'Riley, and Bunny Livingston. Wailer was born Neville O'Riley Livingston in Kingston. He spent his earliest years in the village of Nine Mile in Saint Ann Parish of Jamaica.
He first met Bob Marley there, and the two young boys befriended each other quickly. The boys both came from single-parent families; his father brought up Livingston, and Marley by his mother. Later, Wailer's father, Thaddeus "Thaddy Shut" Livingston, lived with Marley's mother, Cedella Booker, in Trenchtown and had a daughter with her named Pearl Livingston. In 1963, he formed "The Wailing Wailers" with Marley, his friend Peter Tosh, and the short-term members Junior Braithwaite and Beverley Kelso.
Wailer's style of music was influenced by gospel music and the soul singer Curtis Mayfield. In 1967, he recorded "This Train," based on a gospel standard, for the first time, at Studio One. Wailer was arrested on charges of possession of cannabis in June 1967 and served a 14-month prison sentence. Around this time, he, Bob Marley, and Peter Tosh signed an exclusive recording agreement with Danny Sim's JAD Records. As the Wailers regularly changed producers in the late 1960s, Wailer continued to contribute songs to the group's repertoire. The music critic Kwame Dawes says that Wailer's song lyrics were carefully crafted and literary in style, and he remained a key part of the group's distinctive harmonies.
By 1973, each of the three founding Wailers operated his label, Marley with Tuff Gong, Tosh with H.I.M. Intel Diplo, and Bunny Wailer with Solomonic. He sang lead vocals on "Reincarnated Souls," the B-side of the Wailer's first Island single of the new era, and on two tracks on the Wailer's last trio LP, "Burnin'": "Pass it On" and "Hallelujah Time." By now, he was recording singles in his own right, cutting "Searching For Love," "Life Line," "Trod On," "Arab Oil Weapon," and "Pass It On" (a new recording of the Wailers song) for his label. Bunny Wailer toured with the Wailers in England and the United States but soon became reluctant to leave Jamaica. He and Tosh were more marginalized in the group as the Wailers attained international success, and attention was increasingly focused on Marley.
Wailer left the Wailers in 1973 and adopted the name "Bunny" in pursuit of a solo career after balking when Chris Blackwell wanted the Wailers to tour in the United States, stating that it was against his Rastafari principles. Before leaving the Wailers, Wailer had become more focused on his spiritual faith. He identified with the Rastafari movement, as did the other Wailers. He also composed much of his material and re-recorded several cuts from the Wailers' catalog. Wailer recorded primarily in the roots style, keeping with his often political and spiritual messages; his album Blackheart Man was well received.
Wailer won the Grammy Award for Best Reggae Album three times; in 1991 for the album Time Will Tell: A Tribute to Bob Marley and in 1995 for Crucial! Roots Classics, and in 1997 for Hall of Fame: A Tribute to Bob Marley's 50th Anniversary. He was also featured on the album True Love by Toots and the Maytals, which won the Grammy Award in 2004 for Best Reggae Album and showcased many notable musicians. In August 2012, Wailer received the Order of Jamaica's fifth highest honor. In 2016, he played a month-long 'Blackheart Man' tour to celebrate the 40th anniversary of his 1976 album. In October 2017, he was awarded the Order of Merit by the Jamaican government, the nation's fourth-highest honor. In November 2019, Wailer received a Pinnacle Award in New York from the Coalition to Preserve Reggae.
In October 2018, Wailer suffered a minor stroke, resulting in speech problems. After another stroke in July 2020, he was hospitalized at Andrews Memorial Hospital in Saint Andrew Parish. Bunny Wailer was an original member of the reggae group The Wailers, along with Bob Marley and Peter Tosh. Considered one of the longtime standard-bearers of reggae music, he died on March 2, 2021, at 73.
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