Toronto

'Big Canadian reggae lion' Jo Jo Bennett dies at 81

Joseph "Jo Jo" Bennett, an influential member of Canada's reggae scene and a respected teacher, died on Tuesday, his friends told CBC News.

The Sattalites cofounder and 2-time Juno Award winner' was a reggae pioneer in Canada

Joseph 'Jo Jo' Bennett, the Sattalites' flugelhorn player, brought a lot of joy with his music, Bennett's friends say. (Submitted by Blair Moody)

Joseph "Jo Jo" Bennett, an influential member of Canada's reggae scene and a respected teacher, died on Tuesday at the age of 81, his friends told CBC News.

The flugelhorn and trumpet player with the renowned band the Sattalites was a two-time Juno Award winner. Bennett was not only known for his musical talent, but for his care for others and larger-than-life personality.

"He brought a lot of joy with his music," said Bennett's bandmate and lead vocalist Fergus Hambleton.

"He was an extremely musical person and he was an extremely encouraging person," Hambleton said. 

"That made him a great teacher and a great player."

Before Hambleton and Bennett were bandmates, they were teachers. In the early 1980s, they formed "The Sattalites Music School," a teaching group that ran on a "pay-what-you-can" basis.

The band later formed with five more members: David Fowler, Bruce McGillivray, Junior McPherson, Rick Morrison and Bruce Robinson.

The fusion of Hambleton's alto voice and Bennett's flugelhorn was at the centre of their unique sound.

Sattalites Fergus Hambleton and Jo Jo Bennett on Canadian reggae

7 years ago
2:01
Hambleton and Bennett explain why Canadian and Jamaican musicians work well together 2:01

But he was not only known for playing reggae, said Julian King, a Toronto music promoter for more than 20 years. He would also play jazz and a little rock 'n' roll.

"Jo Jo was a musician first and reggae was his thing," King said.

To King, Bennett was a friend and mentor. 

"He's easily one of our favourite sons, and fathers and godfathers of reggae music ... I call him the Big Canadian Reggae Lion," he said. 

Blair Moody, a friend of Bennett's for more than 40 years, said the musician was "always giving,"

Moody said Bennett, known as "Guru" and "Teach," always supported the idea of a music school.

'A few dollars in his pocket and a horn under his arms'

Bennett, born in Kingston, Jamaica on July 13, 1940, began his music career at the age of 10 when he enrolled at Alpha Boys' School studying jazz and the classics.

"It's where he learned so much ...came out of there with a few dollars in his pocket and a horn under his arms," Moody said.

"Jo Jo was a consummate musician, a consummate teacher, hence his nicknames."

Moody said Bennett had suffered several strokes a couple of years back, but seemed to get back in good shape each time.

The Sattalites, a reggae band formed in Toronto in the early 1980s, won two Juno awards and are known as Canada's longest standing reggae group. (Submitted by Blair Moody)

Moody, who would take him to doctor's appointments and watch baseball and hockey with him, said he was at his bedside the day before he died. 

He said it was difficult seeing his health deteriorate in just a few weeks after his birthday in July this year.

"He's a Rasta man. He said, 'I'm checking out, I know that', and he refused all medical interventions basically, due to his beliefs," he said. 

"He's an integral piece of what Jamaica has provided to the world, he made the world a better place."

Bennett's legacy is marked on a mural in Toronto's Reggae Lane in Little Jamaica.

King said a celebration of Bennett's life is set to take place in October.


For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.

(CBC)

With files from Dalia Ashry

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