Robbie Shakespeare, bass player of influential reggae rhythm duo Sly and Robbie, dies aged 68

Robbie Shakespeare
(Image credit: Frans Schellekens/Redferns)

Robbie Shakespeare – who together with drummer Sly Dunbar made up one of the world's most sought-after rhythm sections, Sly and Robbie – has died aged 68.

The bassist passed away in Florida where he had recently been in hospital for kidney surgery, the Jamaica Gleaner (opens in new tab) reports. 

Confirming the news in a statement, Jamaica's Culture Minister Olivia Grange said: “Sly and Robbie took bass playing and drumming to the highest level as they made music for themselves as a group, and for many other artists locally and internationally.”

Jamaica’s Prime Minister Andrew Holness added, “When it comes to reggae bass playing, no-one comes close to having the influence of Robbie Shakespeare.”

Born in Jamaica's capital Kingston in 1953, Shakespeare was taught to play bass by The Wailers' Aston Barrett, and went on to enjoy a career spanning almost 50 years.

Best known for his tenure with Sly and Robbie – though during his career he worked with a host of other artists including Bob Dylan, Sinead O’Connor, The Rolling Stones and Madonna – Shakespeare's bass playing helped the duo become one of the most influential rhythm sections in reggae and dub, and indeed music in general.

The pair's body of work is sprawling and varied; aside from releasing multiple studio albums under the Sly and Robbie banner, the duo also produced Chaka Demus & Pliers hits Murder She Wrote and Bam Bam, and worked on several movie soundtracks, including Poetic Justice (1993).

During his prolific career, Shakespeare was nominated for 13 Grammy awards, winning two: Best Reggae Recording for Anthem in 1984 and Best Reggae Album for Friends in 1998.

Last year, Shakespeare was placed at number 17 on Rolling Stone (opens in new tab)'s list of the 50 greatest bassists of all time, with the publication writing: “No other musical entity in the post-Marley era has been so omnipresent in shaping the sound of Jamaica and bringing it to the world.”

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Sam Roche

Sam was Staff Writer at from 2019 to 2023, and also created content for Total Guitar, Guitarist and Guitar Player. He has well over 15 years of guitar playing under his belt, as well as a degree in Music Technology (Mixing and Mastering). He's a metalhead through and through, but has a thorough appreciation for all genres of music. In his spare time, Sam creates point-of-view guitar lesson videos on YouTube under the name Sightline Guitar (opens in new tab).