William "Bunny Rugs" Clarke is best remembered as the lead vocalist/guitarist and a songwriter for Third World in the mid-'70s. However, beginning in the late '80s, he also made a bid for a solo career on the side. Raised in East Kingston, Clarke's earliest musical influences included Nat King Cole and Aretha Franklin. He learned to sing in church. At age 15, Clarke accepted an invitation to audition at the Kittymat Club and became a member of Charlie Hackett & the Souvenirs. At the same time he attended the Jamaica School of Arts and Crafts until 1968, when he moved to New York and joined Hugh Hendricks & the Buccaneers, a popular party band in Brooklyn. Clarke founded his own band, the Wild Bunch, in 1971. Two years later he went back to Jamaica to replace Jacob Miller as the lead singer with Inner Circle. There he played with musicians who would later branch off to become Third World, including founding member Ibo Cooper. But while Cooper and others formed that group, Clarke returned to the States in the hopes of having a songwriting career with Atlantic Records.
Third World came to New York in the late '70s and asked Clarke to become the new singer in place of Milton "Prilly" Hamilton. Clarke contributed many songs to Third World's classic second album, 96 Degrees in the Shade. From that point on, Clarke became a key figure in creating Third World's image as one of the most versatile, adventurous reggae bands in the world. He and other group members began branching out and recording, producing, and writing for other Jamaican performers in the late '80s. Clarke and fellow Third World mate Cat Coore both sang on Philip "Fatis" Burrell's Xterminator label with such artists as Capleton, Beres Hammond, and Marcia Griffiths. As a solo artist, Clarke also released a handful of albums including Talking to You (1995), Soul to Soul (2003), What a World with Sean Paul (2006), and I'm Sure (2006). In 2012, Clarke released his sixth studio album, Time. That same year, he also received a Caribbean American Heritage Award for Outstanding Contribution to Reggae. Although he continued to perform, in 2013 Clarke revealed that he had been diagnosed with leukemia; he died on February 2, 2014 at the age of 65. ~ Sandra Brennan