Reggae was born in Jamaica in 1968, the child of ska and rocksteady music. The first single to penetrate the Hot 100 was probably Johnny Nash’s 1968 single Hold Me Tight. One of the artists who was actively recording music during that transition was Jimmy Cliff. He began recording ska music in 1962 while still in school, and slowly expanded into rocksteady and eventually reggae.
Jimmy’s first album was released in 1969 and singles from the album began to get him more recognition. One single, Wonderful World, Beautiful People, was released in late 1969 and peaked at #25 in January 1970.
Also on that album was Vietnam, a song that Bob Dylan referred to as the best protest song he ever heard. The time wasn’t right for that type of protest song in the US and the song failed to chart there.
Jimmy then released a cover of the Cat Stevens song, Wild World. While it did not chart in the US, it reached #8 in the UK and the top twenty in at least six more countries.
In 1972, Johnny Nash hit number one in the US with the reggae tune I Can See Clearly Now. Paul Simon recorded the #4 hit Mother And Child Reunion using the Jimmy Cliff band as backup musicians. Reggae began to achieve success in the US.
Jimmy may not have had much success as a recording artist in the US in the following years, but he remained busy and successful. He acted in an important Jamaican film, appeared and sang on the first season of Saturday Night Live, provided backup vocals for the Rolling Stones, won a Grammy Award for the Best Reggae Performance in 1986, and co-starred in the film Club Paradise and recorded several of the songs on its soundtrack.
He continued to record albums and singles nearly every year through 2013 and finally returned to the US charts with a cover version of I Can See Clearly Now. The song was used in the soundtrack of the film Cool Runnings and reached #18 on the Hot 100 in 1994.
Jimmy was inducted into The Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame in 2010.