by Jodee Brown
The Reggae world has lost another of its patriarchs after Third World lead singer, William ‘Bunny Rugs’ Clarke passed away Sunday night after a long battle with leukemia.
Clarke, who was set to turn 66 on Thursday, passed away at his home in Orlando, FL, according to friends and collegues of the singer. A week earlier, he was in hospital receiving treatment for the cancerous disease and had been in intensive care.
Regarded as one of the most profound and distinct voices in Reggae music history, Clarke started his career at just 15 years old and worked with popular Reggae band, Inner Circle as well as prominent producer, Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry. The Mandeville-born artist then became a member of Third World, one of the most popular Reggae bands in history, spending 31 years with the group.
While part of the group, they issued classics such as Now that We Found Love, Always Around, Committed and Try Jah Love, the latter co-written alongside legendary American singer, Stevie Wonder,who performed with the band at Reggae Sunsplash in 1981.
Those songs and others were chart-toppers in several countries, particularly gaining acclaim on American and British singles charts. The band, which also featured the likes of Michael ‘Ibo’ Cooper, Stephen ‘Cat’ Coore, Colin Leslie and many more, dropped several hit albums while signed to Island Recordsincluding 96 Degrees of Shade (1977), Journey To Addis (1978) and received six Best Reggae Album Grammy nominations for later projects such as Serious Business, Committed, Live It Up andAin’t Givin’ Up, though they never emerged with an Grammy award.
In a statement Monday morning, Jamaica’s minister of youth and culture, Lisa Hanna said of Clarke, “I am sad that Bunny Rugs has passed away and we will no longer be able to go to a venue to watch him perform with his beloved Third World. However, I am grateful and proud of his contribution to music. He was a true Reggae ambassador who, along with the rest of Third World, brought Jamaica’s music to the world.”
“Bunny Rugs’ voice was distinct. He had a charisma and stage presence that were spell-binding, with a smile that was vibrant. I personally will never forget him singing ‘Try Jah Love’ and ’96 Degrees in the Shade.’ Today, I offer condolences to Bunny Rugs’ family including his musical brothers in Third World.”
Third World is said to be hurting deeply as they mourn Clarke’s death, which leaves the group’s futuresomewhat in doubt. The band, who celebrated their 40th anniversary last year, was set to perform at theBlue Mountain Music Festival in St. Andrew later this month as well as several summer shows in the U.S.
Clarke’s death comes as Jamaica celebrates Reggae month, which celebrates the country’s most popular genre and the stars of that genre, including Bob Marley, who was born on the same day as the Third World star.