Joseph Hill was the lead singer and songwriter for the roots reggae group Culture, most famous for their 1977 hit “Two Sevens Clash”, but also well known for their “International Herb” single. Hill recorded twenty-two albums and toured the world with his band, spreading the message of Rastafari and social justice. He died on August 19, 2006, in Berlin, Germany, while on a European tour. His death shocked and saddened his fans and fellow musicians, who remembered him as a visionary and a prophet. In this article, we will explore the life and legacy of Joseph Hill, and the cause of his death.
Early Life and Career
Joseph Hill was born on January 22, 1949, in Linstead, a town in Saint Catherine Parish in the southeast of Jamaica. He was raised in a Christian family and began singing in church at the age of six. Within two years he was making his own musical instruments. After leaving home he came into contact with Rastafarians and adopted the faith. He began his career in the late 1960s as a percussionist, recording with the Studio One house band the Soul Defenders. He also worked as a sound system deejay, and began performing as a backing vocalist, leading to his singles “Behold the Land” and “Take Me Girl” in the early 1970s.
In the early 70s Hill performed with two groups that included future reggae star Glen Washington: C35 Incorporated and Stepping Stone. He performed regularly on the hotel circuit, but had his greatest success with the group Culture.
Culture and Success
Hill formed Culture in 1976, and had early success with the prophetic “Two Sevens Clash”, predicting apocalypse on July 7, 1977. The record was hugely popular on the emerging punk rock scene in England, heavily influencing The Clash, John Lydon and Public Image. During the 1970s the group had a string of highly successful singles for producers Joe Gibbs and Sonia Pottinger including the song “Two Sevens Clash” which made its mark on both Jamaica and the United Kingdom. It was named by Rolling Stone magazine in 2002 as one of the “50 Coolest Records”, the only single artist reggae album to make the list. The group also had a hit with “Stop Fussing and Fighting”, a song that addressed the chaotic political climate of the late 1970s and the attempt on Bob Marley’s life.
Joseph Hill and Culture developed a reputation as a performing group after a performance at the One Love Peace Concert in 1978, and was soon regularly touring the United States, Europe and Africa. In recent years the group continued to perform at least one hundred concerts each year, with Hill’s wife Pauline as road manager. Hill was a presence on stage: part DJ as he directed his band to reconfigure songs on stage and part teacher as he commented on Jamaican history and current political issues. In his lyrics, Hill often explored how the legacy of slavery continued to have an influence on Jamaican citizens.
Joseph Hill Cause of Death and Legacy
Joseph Hill died on a tour bus just after entering Berlin on August 19, 2006. The cause of death was later confirmed to be liver cirrhosis, a condition that affects the liver and can be caused by excessive alcohol consumption and smoking. Hill had a weakness for both habits, despite his devotion to the traditional Rastafarian values of purity, simplicity and justice. His widow, Mama Pauline, said that he had been suffering from stomach pains for a while, but refused to see a doctor. She also said that he had a premonition of his death, and told her that he wanted to be buried in Jamaica.
At his funeral in September 2006, Hill was eulogised by, amongst others, Jamaican Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller who recognised his contributions to Jamaican culture. His son Kenyatta subsequently took over his role in Culture, and continues to perform with the band to this day. Hill’s music and message have inspired generations of reggae fans and artists, who regard him as one of the greatest and most influential figures in the genre. His songs have been covered by many artists, including Lauryn Hill, Wyclef Jean, Sizzla, and Luciano. He has also been honoured with an induction into the Jamaican Reggae Walk of Fame and a 2005 Independence Award presented by the Prime Minister of Jamaica.
Joseph Hill was a reggae icon who left behind a rich legacy of music and wisdom. His cause of death was a tragic reminder of the human frailty that can affect even the most spiritual and visionary people. His life, however, was a testament to the power and beauty of reggae music, and the positive impact it can have on the world. As he sang in one of his songs, “No night in Zion, King Rastafari is our light”.