Jamaica Hall Of Fame: Jimmy Cliff, Reggae Superstar

Jamaican Jimmy Cliff Reggae Superstar

Jimmy Cliff, the singer of World, Reggae, Soul, Rock Steady and Roots Reggae songs, was born James Chambers in St. Catherine, Jamaica on July 30th, 1948.

He began his singing career at area shows and parish fairs. Jimmy Cliff began to seek the ‘big time’ when he was a teenager and moved to Kingston. In Kingston, he changed his surname from Chambers to Cliff. His first single, “Hurricane Hattie,” was an overnight sensation in Jamaica.

Island Records signed Jimmy Cliff as his record continued to rise on the charts. He achieved additional success with recordings like, “”Miss Jamaica,” One Eyed Jacks” and “Pride and Passion,” which was inspired by his time in the Ska scene. By the mid 1960s, Jimmy had become an international star. He represented Jamaica at the World’s Fair and began composing his own songs.

Cliff then moved to Paris, France, and then to Britain. While in Britain, he tried his hand at producing Progressive Rock, and he succeeded in crossing over to other musical markets. In 1968, he won the International Song Festival with his song, “Waterfall.” This song had previously been released in Brazil and had been a mega hit there. Cliff decided it would be advantageous to make use of the song’s popularity and moved to Brazil.

He enhanced his global appeal with songs like “Wonderful World, Beautiful People” and also produced one of the best anti-war protest songs of the era. Entitled “Vietnam,” described war time happenings and contributed to raising anti- war awareness. Cliff continued to have phenomenal good fortune, especially with his recording, “You Can Get It If You Really Want It.”

Cliff’s producer Leslie Kong died of a heart attack at the pinnacle of his success, and the loss proved devastating for Cliff as Kong had been his friend and mentor from early in his career. After the tragedy, Jimmy Cliff launched into a film career, taking the lead role in the film, “The Harder They Come.” He also recorded the soundtrack for the movie, an effort that catapulted  him to international stardom.

After the film’s debut, Cliff had some “wranglings” with his record company, after which it was decided to put his career on hold in order to nurture other artists. Cliff left Island Records and sought representation elsewhere. Cliff worked with various record companies, but did not find the success that he enjoyed during the previous years.

About this time, Jimmy Cliff converted to Islam and began travelling throughout Africa. His religious conversion became an integral part of his music. Cliff had another cycle of success in the late 1970’s with the release of “Follow My Mind.” He caught the attention of Rolling Stones producer, Andrew Loog Oldha, and at Oldham’s request, Cliff began a road tour and made many new recordings.

In 1981, Jimmy Cliff recorded, “Give The People What They Want.” After making this recording, he signed on with Columbia Records. While at Columbia, he created the band “Oneness” and went on a US tour with Peter Tosh. Cliff made several recordings during his time at Columbia and continued his acting career in the movie “Club Paradise,” while also recording the soundtrack.

Jimmy Cliff is quite the comeback artist.. His album, ” Black Magic” brought him mainstream recognition, with collaborations from artists such as Sting, Joe Strummer and Wyclef Jean. He remains one of the most talented musicians of our Century.

Photo Source: Jimmy Cliff Website

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Stephanie Korney