Tragedy struck the legendary roots reggae act Mighty Diamonds this week as two founding members — lead singer Donald “Tabby” Shaw and longtime band mate Fitzroy “Bunny” Simpson — both died within days of each other.
On Tuesday, March 29, Shaw was shot and killed in a drive-by shooting in the Mighty Diamonds’ native Jamaica, where the prolific trio were one of the country’s longest-running and most venerated reggae acts. Shaw was 67.
Three days later, on April 1, Simpson died at the age of 71 at an undisclosed hospital following a long battle with diabetes, Dancehall Magazine reported. Jamaica’s ministry of culture added that Simpson also suffered a stroke in 2017 and, more recently, recovered from Covid-19. “He was taken in for a check-up this morning, was admitted, and died later,” the Ministry of Culture said in a press release.
Simpson was not informed of the killing of Shaw prior to his own death, the Mighty Diamonds’ former manager Copeland Forbes told the Jamaica Gleaner. “To lose two Diamonds in one week is too heartbreaking to put into words,” Forbes added.
Formed in 1969 in the Trenchtown section of Kingston, the Mighty Diamonds — Shaw, Simpson and Lloyd “Judge” Ferguson, now the trio’s lone surviving member — recorded a string of singles in the early Seventies alongside legends like Lee “Scratch” Perry, Bunny Lee and Derrick Harriott.
After a successful stint on the Channel One label — and amid a surge of worldwide popularity for the reggae genre in the mid-Seventies — the Mighty Diamonds signed with Virgin to release their first most enduring LP, 1976’s Right Time, with the harmonious trio backed by the classic rhythm duo Sly & Robbie. “Right Time is simply one of the finest reggae LPs ever released,” Rolling Stone wrote of the album in 1976, and its standing remains the same today.
The following decade yielded perhaps the Mighty Diamonds’ biggest hit, even though they weren’t the ones to record it: “Pass the Kouchie,” the trio’s 1981 paean to bong-sharing and “kouchie culture” that became a minor hit, was later converted into Musical Youth’s 1982 smash “Pass the Dutchie,” which stripped the song of its marijuana references and replaced it with lyrics about food.
A confluence of rocksteady, soul and Rastafarian influences, the Mighty Diamonds remained one of Jamaica’s most prolific acts during their seven-decade tenure together, producing music at an album-a-year pace up through the Nineties. In 2021, the trio were awarded national honors from the Jamaican government for their musical legacy.
“This double loss is really devastating,” Jamaica’s culture minister Olivia Grange said Friday in a statement. “It is hard to believe that two members of the Mighty Diamonds would pass within days of each other.”