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Astro, a founding member of the reggae group UB40, has died at age 64

Astro, founding member of UB40, in 1987.
Astro, founding member of UB40, in 1987.

Terence Wilson, a founding member of UB40 who was known by fans of the pioneering reggae band as Astro, has died following a short illness. He was 64.

Wilson's death was confirmed Saturday on the official Twitter page for his group, UB40 featuring Ali Campbell & Astro.

"We are absolutely devastated and completely heartbroken to have to tell you that our beloved Astro has today passed away after a very short illness," the statement read. "The world will never be the same without him."

The current, separate iteration of the band UB40, which Wilson left in 2013, also confirmed the singer's death. "Our sincere condolences to his family," the band tweeted.

UB40 formed in Birmingham, England in the late 1970s, when reggae was becoming an outlet for the country's working class youth to express their feelings about issues including racism and poverty. UB40 took their name from the British unemployment benefits card, a form they replicated as the cover of their 1980 debut album Signing Off.

"I went through the same rigmarole as most black people in the late 70s," Wilson told The Guardian in an interview in May, referencing the era's stop-and-frisk "sus law," which often unfairly targeted men of color. "It was a weekly occurrence. We found it harder to write love songs than militant lyrics, because it was a lot easier to write about stuff you had witnessed or read about. It seemed natural to us."

The four time Grammy-nominated band topped the U.K. singles chart with the cover "Red Red Wine," a crossover American favorite, as well as a cover of the Elvis Presley classic "(I Can't Help) Falling In Love With You" and "I Got You Babe" featuring The Pretenders' Chrissie Hynde.

In 2013 Wilson left UB40 and formed his own version of the band alongside former members Ali Campbell and Mickey Virtue.

"Since Astro rejoined my band, it's been a renaissance for us," Campbell said in a 2016 interview. "Me and Astro is enough to make the fans happy, they're voting with their feet."

Wilson and Campbell continued to release music and perform, and were planning a 2022 tour for their last album, Unprecedented, up until Wilson's death.

Earlier this year, another founding member of UB40, the group's saxophonist and songwriter Brian Travers, also died following a battle with cancer.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.