Jimmy Cliff

Jimmy Cliff’s career spanned an era that saw the international popularization of ska and reggae music. Born in St. James, Jamaica in 1948, Cliff started writing songs at a young age while listening to his neighbor’s music. He entered Kingston Technical School at his father’s behest in 1962, but soon found himself attempting to make his name as a singer and songwriter. He entered local talent shows and searched for producers but found no success until he teamed up with record store and restaurant owner Leslie Kong. Cliff borrowed the store’s name, Beverly’s, and wrote a song to convince Kong to record him. Kong started his own record label of the same name, began recording a young Bob Marley as well as other local musicians, and became an early shareholder in Chris Blackwell’s Island Records. Cliff’s “Hurricane Hattie” was recorded by Kong when the singer was only fourteen. It was the first of a string of hits and landed Cliff the role of Jamaican representative to the 1964 World’s Fair. The same year, Cliff was featured alongside other major local ska acts in the musical film This is Ska! Cliff signed to Island Records but found little acclaim as Blackwell, akin to Bob Marley, attempted to sell the singer as a “black rock” act. The years 1967–1972 saw Cliff release a series of albums and singles, which found limited success despite exposing Cliff to a larger audience. In 1972 Cliff starred in and provided material for the soundtrack of the film The Harder They Come. The soundtrack sold well worldwide and is largely credited for breaking reggae music internationally. In the late 1970s, Cliff traveled to Africa, converted to Islam, and took a break from performing. From the 1980s onward, Cliff continued to release original music and work with other major artists. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2010.