Writers, musicians and politicians have paid tribute to "pioneer and innovator" Professor Benjamin Zephaniah, who has died aged 65.

The dub poet, who had been politically active since the 1980s, had been diagnosed with a brain tumour two months ago.

Born in Birmingham, he moved to London aged 22, where he became involved in a workers' co-operative in Stratford and published his first book of poetry, Pen Rhythm, in 1980.

In a prolific career, he wrote poetry, plays and novels, as well as performing music.

He was a chairman of Hackney Empire Theatre and was involved in the Hackney Windrush Art Commission. He also worked with anti-racism organisation Newham Monitoring Project and Tower Hamlets Summer University about the impact of Olympic policing on black communities.

He also acted, appearing in hit BBC show Peaky Blinders as Jeremiah Jesus.

Announcing his death, Zephaniah’s family said in a statement: “It is with great sadness and regret that we announced the death of our beloved husband, son and brother in the early hours of this morning December 7, 2023.

“Benjamin was diagnosed with a brain tumour eight weeks ago.

“Benjamin’s wife was by his side throughout and was with him when he passed.

“We shared him with the world and we know many will be shocked and saddened by this news.

Ham & High: Benjamin Zephaniah at the South Bank Sky Arts Awards at the Savoy Hotel in 2019Benjamin Zephaniah at the South Bank Sky Arts Awards at the Savoy Hotel in 2019 (Image: PA)

“Benjamin was a true pioneer and innovator, he gave the world so much. Through an amazing career including a huge body of poems, literature, music, television, and radio, Benjamin leaves us with a joyful and fantastic legacy.

“Thank you for the love you have shown Professor Benjamin Zephaniah.”

Born in Birmingham, the young Zephaniah was dyslexic and left school at 13 unable to properly read and write.

But "the people's poet" turned his life around, earning an honorary doctorate in Arts and Humanities from the University of North London in 1998, was made a Doctor of Letters by the University of Central England in 1999, and a Doctor of the University by the University of Staffordshire in 2002.

His first writings used dub poetry, a Jamaica style of work that has evolved out of dub reggae, and he would also perform with the group The Benjamin Zephaniah Band.

His 1982 album Rasta featured the Wailers' first recording since the death of Bob Marley as well as a tribute to the then political prisoner Nelson Mandela.

His first book of poetry for children, 1994's Talking Turkeys, had to go into an emergency reprint after just six weeks, as no one foresaw how popular the book would be. It went to the top of the children’s book list and stayed there for months. 

In 2001 he was made chairman of the Hackney Empire.

Two years later he famously turned down an MBE, saying: "No way Mr Blair, no way Mrs Queen. I am profoundly anti-empire."

In May 2011, he accepted a year-long position as poet-in-residence at Keats House in Hampstead. 

Ham & High: Benjamin Zephaniah performing on stage during the One Big No anti-war concert, at Shepherd's Bush Empire in 2003Benjamin Zephaniah performing on stage during the One Big No anti-war concert, at Shepherd's Bush Empire in 2003 (Image: PA)

In June 2021 his Life & Rhymes show triumphed at the BAFTA Television Awards where it won the award for Best Entertainment Programme.

Writing on X, Hackney North and Stoke Newington MP Diane Abbott, said: “So sad to hear about the death of poet Benjamin Zephaniah.

“A great man and a trailblazer.”

Muswell Hill-based writer and poet Michael Rosen said on X: "The tragic terrible news has come to me that Benjamin Zephaniah's family have announced that Benjamin has died.

"I'm devastated. I admired him, respected him, learnt from him, loved him. Love and condolences to the family and to all who loved him too."

Musician and activist Billy Bragg posted: “Very sorry to hear this news. Benjamin Zephaniah was our radical poet laureate. Rest in power, my friend.”