Shereita Grizzle, Writer, Jamaica Gleaner
Committed Reggae Voice Gone – William ‘Bunny Rugs’ Clarke Leaves Stellar Music Legacy
On sunday, February 2, the day that the Reggae Month 2014 calendar started in Jamaica, one of the genre’s standout voices died in Orlando, Florida, USA. A legend in his own right, William ‘Bunny Rugs’ Clarke was the lead singer of Third World Band, which is currently marking its 40th anniversary.
Clarke would have celebrated his 66th birthday on Thursday, February 6, which is also the day Bob Marley would have turned 69. Marley also died in Florida.
Clarke, who had been battling cancer for some time, had recently been released from intensive care and was reportedly on the mend, stirring hopes that he would recover sufficiently to resume performing with Third World.
However, it was not to be, as the man who leads Committed, among a slew of Third World hits, was not to return to Jamaica alive.
Born in Mandeville on February 6, 1948, Rugs grew up on John’s Lane in Kingston. He began his career in the mid-1960s, when he joined the Kitty Club’s Charlie Hackett and the Souvenirs, which played extensively on Maxfield Avenue.
Clarke was a part of the duo Bunny & Ricky with Ricky Grant, their recordings including Bushweed Contrash and Freedom Fighter. Clarke was also at one point lead singer of reggae band Inner Circle.
After migrating to New York in the early 1970s, Clarke joined the dance group band Hugh Hendricks and the Buccaneers and later the Bluegrass Experience with Glen Adams, Eric Frater and Sparrow Martin.
Clarke took over as lead singer of the band Third World from Milton ‘Prilly’ Hamilton in 1976.
With Third World, Clarke recorded the very successful album 96 Degrees In The Shade in 1977. The following year, Third World released the album titled Journey To Addis, which included the hit Now That We Found Love, a reggae cover of the O’Jays original. In all, Clarke sang on more than 20 Third World albums.
In addition, Clarke also recorded singles and albums of his own. As a solo artiste, in 1975 he released To Love Somebody, which he recorded with Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry. Clarke also did the album Talking To You, released in 1995. Produced by Jack Scorpio, it featured deejays Papa San, General Trees and Cobra.
In 2007, he released the album I’m Sure and Time was officially launched in Jamaica early last year.
Clarke was also a humanitarian who had a natural instinct to assist the less fortunate. He was the spokesperson for the Jamaican Children’s Heart Fund/Chain of Hope.
In 2007, when Rugs launched I’m Sure at the Verandah, Pulse headquarters, New Kingston, he pledged part proceeds of the solo album towards the Jamaica Children’s Heart Fund. Through the fund, a medical team from South Florida performed heart surgery on a number of children at the University Hospital of the West Indies (UHWI).
Gary Harris, speaking on behalf of the fund, said, “Bunny has offered his time and talent and much more for the Heart Fund to come down and do the heart surgeries we do.” Part of this was making an appeal for contributions which was televised in the United States.
Clarke committed his money as well, saying, “I am pledging part proceeds of the sales of my new CD to this worthy effort.”
It was not the only time Clarke put part of his income stream to the Jamaica Children’s Heart Fund. In 2012, he said Land We Love, from the Time was released as a single to generate funds specifically for the fund.
Third World was nominated for the Grammy Award in the Reggae Category 10 times.
Clarke’s last album with Third World during his lifetime was the 2010 Patriots. Third World is slated to perform on the inaugural BlueMountain Festival in rural St Andrew on February 22.