October 17, 2023
CALLING on influences ranging from The Skatalites to Santana, Third World dared to be different in the 1970s roots-reggae era. Michael “Ibo” Cooper, the band’s co-founder, was a driving force behind their eclectic sound.
Cooper died October 12 in St Andrew at age 71. No cause of death has been announced but the keyboardist passed away two weeks after the death of Joy, his wife of over 45 years.
Their son, Arif, a popular disc jockey and music producer, died in March. Cooper’s death was another tragic moment for their family. The couple’s three surviving children — Arianne, Akiri and Abean — paid tribute to their father in a brief statement.
“Ibo’s contribution to music and culture was immeasurable. His children remember him as a remarkable human being with a magnanimous spirit and light,” they said.
Ibo Cooper is the third member of Third World’s classic line-up to die. In 2014 lead singer and rhythm guitarist Alexander Anthony “Bunny Rugs” Clarke succumbed to cancer; percussionist Irvin “Carrot” Jarrett died four years later from an undisclosed illness.
Along with co-founder and guitarist Stephen “Cat” Coore, bassist Richie Daley, and drummer Willie Stewart, they released songs that revisited Jamaican history (96 Degrees in The Shade), explored ska (cover of Confucius by The Skatalites), and made pop charts with Now That we Found Love and Try Jah Love.
In a Facebook post Stewart hailed Cooper’s love for music and humanity.
“Jamaica has lost a great son and iconic national treasure who has given back his knowledge and talent to the youth, committed with a sense of pride and joy and dignity. You kept Jamaica’s music and culture on the level of excellence as a true reggae ambassador. A man who always remembered the importance of Africa, stood for unity, and was always willing to help uplift our minds, soul and spirit to a higher consciousness. Ready to share, listen and enlighten, you were a natural doctor and professor of music in all aspects. A great husband, father, grandfather, brother, friend and advisor.
“My brother, it was truly a great honour to have played music with you — from Visions to Inner Circle and to Third World. It has been a joy, with memories I will treasure and never, ever forget. Your keyboard playing was exceptional, your ear for music was creative, and arrangements unique. I say: ‘Gone too soon,’ ” Stewart wrote.
Before starting Third World, Cooper and Coore were members of Inner Circle, a band founded in 1968 by brothers Ian and Roger Lewis who, like Cooper, attended Jamaica College.
Roger Lewis described his departed colleague as a “musical brother and mentor” who was ahead of his peers at school.
“We used to marvel at the things Cooper did on the organ at JC, we learned so much from him — I would tell him that in front of him, or behind his back. The last time I told him how much we admired his talent, you could see he appreciated it. This really is the end of an era,” Lewis added.
Ibo Cooper was from Spalding in Clarendon. Most of his formative years were spent in Mona, a middle-class community built by the Matalon family in 1959. His aunt, Miss Lyesight, was a music teacher who helped develop his prodigious talent.
While in Inner Circle, Cooper, Coore, the Lewis brothers, and keyboardist Tyrone Downie, played on Cherry Oh Baby, the 1971 Festival Song Contest winner by Eric Donaldson.
He found global fame with Third World, co-writing some of the band’s biggest hit songs including 96 Degrees in The Shade, Reggae Ambassador and Forbidden Love.
After leaving Third World in 1997 Cooper became a senior lecturer at Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts. Many of his students have become top musicians who record and tour with leading reggae artistes.
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