Toots, 5446 and the St Mary link

Daily Observer (Jamaica) - - Sunday Brew -

MANY sto­ries have been told about the 77 years that Toots, prop­erly named Frederick Hib­bert, spent on Earth.

His songs in the early years were like ex­pen­sive meals in my St Mary house­hold, with 5446 That’s My Num­ber be­ing the stand­out, but Sweet and Dandy, the Fes­ti­val Song of 1968, was my mother’s all-time favourite.

The 5446 That’s My Num­ber song had a deep St Mary con­nec­tion, specif­i­cally the com­mu­nity of Belfield in the south­east sec­tion of the parish. The story of how Toots and the May­tals did that hit song still lingers.

There was a Mr Fog­a­rty in Belfield, a tall, husky, fairskinne­d man with an in­tim­i­dat­ing pres­ence. He was a close friend of my fa­ther. As lit­tle boys, most time when you see Mr Fog­a­rty com­ing you run. If you were brave enough to chance a talk with any of his beau­ti­ful daugh­ters, you did so at an ex­ceed­ingly high risk.

Mr Fog­a­rty was a se­nior warder, now called cor­rec­tional of­fi­cer, per­haps the most se­nior at Rich­mond Farm Prison, about five miles away. That was where Toots, in 1967, spent around nine months for pos­ses­sion of ganja, a pu­n­ish­ment that many felt did not war­rant the crime, but in those days be­ing caught by the po­lice with even a ganja spliff was like be­ing held with an M16 as­sault ri­fle to­day.

At the time of Toots’ con­vic­tion, many of us young­sters were still at ba­sic school or just pre­par­ing to en­ter pri­mary school. But as my fa­ther told me, it was Mr Fog­a­rty who ap­proached Toots in prison one day and asked, “Boy, what’s your num­ber?”. Toots didn’t an­swer, maybe be­cause he felt dis­re­spected in be­ing re­ferred to as ‘boy’. Mr Fog­a­rty asked a se­cond time, “I said boy, what’s your num­ber?”. There was still no an­swer. Mr Fog­a­rty then dropped the ‘boy’ part, but still shouted out, “I said what’s your num­ber, to which Toots looked at his shirt and re­sponded, “5446, that’s my num­ber.”

It was a huge sur­prise soon after his re­lease that Toots recorded the song for which he is best known. And the leg­end still stands that he owed a mas­sive debt to Mr Fog­a­rty.

Out­side of that, Toots was a nice man with a pure heart. In re­cent time, we met at Ho­tel Four Sea­sons in St An­drew over drinks in 2018 and shared, what to me were spe­cial min­utes. He in­sisted that he must pay the bill and be­ing one who is usu­ally fi­nan­cially wounded, there was no need to ob­ject. Another meet­ing, more of a run-in, oc­curred at Suzie’s, South Av­enue, months later at which time he asked me to guess his age. When he told me, after giv­ing up, I al­most fell off the chair. I never saw him after that, but Toots will for­ever stand out in my mind as some­one who I was not only happy to have met, but who thrilled me to the bone with his mu­sic.

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