King Stitt, a pioneer in rap reggae, died Tuesday in his Caribbean homeland of Jamaica. He was 72.
Stitt died at his home in the capital of Kingston after a long fight with prostate cancer and diabetes, said Jamaican musicologist Bunny Goodison, who was a close friend to the performer for more than 50 years. Stitt had recently been discharged from a public hospital.
The entertainer known offstage as Winston Sparks started his musical career in the late 1950s on Kingston’s circuit of sound systems, a sort of portable disco.
Stitt is credited as one of the earliest performers of “toasting,” a vibrant form of Jamaican deejaying that directly inspired hip-hop music.
He is best known for songs like “Paradise Plum” and “Fire Corner.” He was a close collaborator of the late music producer Clement “Sir Coxsone” Dodd, who ran the celebrated Studio One and guided Stitt’s career for years.
Born with disfigured facial features, Stitt, who was also missing numerous teeth, dubbed himself “The Ugly One.”
“Without being disrespectful, Stitt made a mark vocally and visually. Because of his image everyone knew him,” Goodison said Tuesday.
Big Youth, a veteran Jamaican deejay whose real name is Manley Augustus Buchanan, said he vividly recalled his times as a boy watching Stitt’s unique performances in the 1960s.
“He was the first king. Stitt really did a lot for the music, always had a nice vibe,” Big Youth said.
Stitt is survived by a daughter.