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Terry Hall, Lead Singer of British Ska Revivalists The Specials, Dies at 63

todayDecember 20, 2022

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Terry Hall, the charismatic lead vocalist of British ska revivalists The Specials, has died at 63. The band announced Hall’s death on Monday (Dec. 19), revealing that the singer died after an undisclosed “brief illness.”

“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,” the band said in a statement.

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“Terry was a wonderful husband and father and one of the kindest, funniest, and most genuine of souls. 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. He will be deeply missed by all who knew and loved him and leaves behind the gift of his remarkable music and profound humanity.”

One of the leading lights of the late ’70s British ska revival, The Specials (originally billed as Special AKA) formed in Coventry, England, in 1977, with Hall replacing original singer Tim Strickland in the group notable for its multiracial makeup. Coinciding with the burgeoning Rock Against Racism movement in the U.K. at the time, the band members made a statement in their rude boy two-tone suits and porkpie hats and blasted out of the gate on their Elvis Costello-produced self-titled debut on their 2 Tone label, which featured their signature cover of Dandy Livingstone’s 1967 single “A Message to You Rudy.”

Terence Edward Hall was born on March 19, 1959, in Coventry and began his singing career in local punk bands as a teenager before joining The Specials and splitting vocal duties with the excitable Neville Staple.

On such pointedly political songs as “Concrete Jungle,” “Ghost Town” and “Rat Race,” the band mixed Caribbean sway, ska horns, loungey grooves and Jamaican rhythms to form a uniquely uplifting, danceable sound while delivering sharp social critiques about the late 1970s political, racial and economic struggles in the UK. Go-Gos guitarist Jane Wiedlin — who sang backing vocals on the Specials’ 1980 album More Specials — paid tribute to her friend in a touching tweet.

“Gutted to hear of the passing of #terryhall. He was a lovely, sensitive, talented and unique person,” he wrote. “Our extremely brief romance resulted in the song ‘Our Lips Are Sealed,’ which will forever tie us together in music history. Terrible news to hear this.”

The group scored a string of U.K. top 10 singles in its short initial run (1979-1981), before Hall and co-vocalist Staple and guitarist Lynval Golding split to form the more pop-oriented group Fun Boy Three. Hall then formed the group The Colourfield in 1984, releasing two albums with that project before pivoting to release an album with his trio featuring actress Blair Booth and jeweler Anouchka Grose: Terry, Blair & Anouchka. He also recorded an album of electro pop songs with Eurythmics co-founder Dave Stewart as Vegas in 1992 before releasing a pair of solo albums, Home (1994) and Laugh (1997).

Hall returned for a reunion in 2008 and performed on-and-off with the band until his death, appearing on the group’s eighth studio album, 2019’s Encore.

In the early 2000s Hall sang on the 2001 Gorillaz song “911” and sat in on the Toots and the Maytals’ 2004 Grammy-winning album, True Love. Though The Specials formed and reformed a number of times over the years with a wide variety of lineups, Hall will be remembered for the indelible mark he left on the band’s first two albums and the long tail of influence in its music, message and style, which was carried on in spirit by everyone from Fishbone to The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, No Doubt, Blur, Sublime and Operation Ivy/Rancid.

In a moving nod to The Specials’ message of unity, the band noted in its tribute that Hall often left the stage at the end of shows by uttering a signature affirming three-word mantra: “Love, love, love.”

Watch “A Message to You Rudy” and see some tributes to Hall below.

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