Terry Hall, lead singer of influential UK ska band The Specials, has died at the age of 63.
The band announced Hall’s death on Monday (December 19th): “It is with great sadness that we announce the passing, following a brief illness, of Terry, our beautiful friend, brother and one of the most brilliant singers, songwriters and lyricists this country has ever produced.”
“Terry was a wonderful husband and father and one of the kindest, funniest, and most genuine of souls,” the statement continued. “His music and his performances encapsulated the very essence of life… the joy, the pain, the humour, the fight for justice, but mostly the love.”
Hall joined The Specials shortly after their formation in 1977, replacing original vocalist Tim Strickland. The band initially went by the name Automatics, and then Coventry Automatic, before permanently settling on The Specials in 1978. Their big break came that same year, when Joe Strummer attended one of their concerts and invited them to open for The Clash on their “On Parole” UK tour.
With a lineup featuring Hall, songwriter/keyboardist Jerry Dammers, guitarist Lynval Golding, guitarist Roddy Radiation, bassist Horace Panter, toaster Neville Staple, and drummer John Bradbury, The Specials were figureheads of the UK’s 2 Tone genre, which combined traditional Jamaican ska music with elements of punk rock and new wave music. As many of the bands in the scene featured a mix of white and Black members, 2 Tone was also notable for its inclusivity at time of racial strife in the UK.
The Specials released their debut single “Gangsters,” a reworking of Prince Buster’s “Al Capone,” in 1979. The song hit the top 10 in the UK that summer. By the fall, The Specials put out their self-titled debut album, which was produced by Elvis Costello and featured backing vocals from The Pretenders’ Chrissie Hynde.
The following year, The Specials earned their first No. 1 record with “Too Much Too Young,” the title track to their EP of the same name. They followed that up in 1981 with a second No. 1 single, “Ghost Town.”
Citing internal disagreements, Hall, Staple, and Golding left The Specials in 1981 and formed a new project called Fun Boy Three. Their 1982 self-titled debut reached No. 7 on the UK albums chart, while their 1983 follow-up Waiting achieved two top 10 singles with “The Tunnel of Love” and “Our Lips Are Sealed.”
Hall’s other musical ventures included the mid-80s band The Colourfield, and Vegas, a short-lived project he formed with Eurythmics’ Dave Stewart in 1992. He also released two solo albums: 1994’s Home and 1997’s Laugh.
In the 2000s, Hall collaborated with Gorillaz on “911”; featured on Toots and the Maytals’ Grammy Award-winning album True Love; and provided vocals for many of the tracks on the Dub Pistols’ album Speakers and Tweeters.
In 2008, Hall, Golding, Radiation, Panter, Staple, and Bradbury reunited as The Specials for a surprise performance at Bestival in the UK. The following year, they embarked on a 30th anniversary reunion tour.
The Specials continued on as an active touring unit, even after Staple’s and Radiation’s respective departures in 2013 and 2014, and Bradbury’s death in 2015. Hall, Golding, and Panter put out a new album called Encore in 2019, and had performed live as recently as this past summer.