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Jimmy Cliff, OM- An Outstanding Musical Journey

Outside of Robert Nesta Marley, it is undoubtable that the most successful singer, musician and recording artiste produced by our island is the one and only Jimmy Cliff. He was born in Somerton district in St James, Jamaica, on April 1st, 1948, and his parents christened him James Chambers. He began writing songs while still at primary school in St. James, where he grew up listening to a neighbour's sound system. In 1962 his father took him to the capital city Kingston to attend the Kingston Technical school in order for him to learn electrical technology. Opening a Door While still at school young Jimmy Cliff entered numerous talent contests and sought out many producers, trying to get his songs recorded but was luckless. One night he forced himself into a restaurant and ice cream parlour that also sold records just before the business’ closing time and offered to pitch a song he had written entitled “Dearest Beverley” to the owner Leslie Kong and his two brothers. While not enamored by the particular song, Leslie liked Cliff’s voice and the fact that he could write songs. The 14-year-old Jimmy Cliff literally convinced the Kongs at that point to go into the recording business where instead of buying records for re-sale they would be producing their own material. Thus began “Beverley’s Records” and the launch of Jimmy Cliff’s recording career.

Recording Career Leslie Kong recorded Jimmy Clifff’s song as well as one other, none of which were successful. His third song “Hurricane Hattie” was a hit but not as big as “Miss Jamaica” after which Leslie Kong never looked back. Jimmy Cliff's realized a number of local hit singles which included "King of Kings", "Dearest Beverley", "Miss Jamaica", and "Pride and Passion". In 1964, he was chosen as one of Jamaica's representatives attending the World’s Fair in New York. He was soon signed to Chris Blackwell’s Island Records and moved to the United Kingdom where Island Records unsuccessfully tried to market him to the Rock Music audience. Nonetheless, his career took off in the late 1960s with his international debut album “Hard Road to Travel” which received excellent reviews. The album included the hit "Waterfall" which became a hit in Brazil and won the International Song Festival. This was followed in 1969 by "Wonderful World, Beautiful People" and the global protest song "Vietnam"

in 1970 in response to the human tragedy of the Vietnam War. Renowned American musician Bob Dylan commented that “Vietnam” was the best protest song he had ever heard. Both songs realized rave reviews globally, and Jimmy Cliff followed this up with a cover of Cat Stephens’ “Wild World” which equally enjoyed huge popularity. Since 1970 Jimmy Cliff has developed a resume and music output catalogue that is unmatched by any other Jamaican recording artiste apart from Bob Marley. In 1981 Bruce Springsteen included Jimmy Cliff’s little-known song “Trapped” to their live set. The song achieved even greater prominence after inclusion on the 1985 Benefit album “We Are the World” In the same year Cliff’s album “Cliff Hanger” won a Grammy Award for Best Reggae Album. Also, in 1985 he contributed to the song "Sun City," a protest song written and composed by Stephen Van Zandt and recorded by Artists United against Apartheid to convey opposition to the South African government’s policy of Apartheid. In 1988, his song "Shelter of Your Love" was featured in the hit film “Cocktail”. In 1991 Jimmy Cliff appeared at the second Rock in Rio festival in Rio de Janerio, Brazil before returning to the mainstream pop charts in the US and elsewhere with the song (a Johnny Nash remake) “I Can See Clearly Now” which was number one in France and made the charts in the USA and the United Kingdom. This song was featured in the movie “Cool Runnings” soundtrack in 1993. In 1995 Cliff released the single "Hakuna-Matata," a collaborative effort with “Lebo M” which also made the soundtrack of the film “The Lion King” In 2002, Jimmy Cliff performed at the closing ceremony to the 2002 Commonwealth Games and in 2003 his song "You Can Get It If You Really Want" was included in the soundtrack to the film, “Something’s Gotta Give”. In July of the same year, he appeared at the Paleo Festival in Nyon, Switzerland. In 2007 Cliff performed his song “Many Rivers to Cross” at the opening “Hi World” ceremony at the ICC Cricket World Cup in South Africa. In the spring and summer of 2010, Cliff embarked on an extensive tour of the US and Canada and in 2012 his album Rebirth was nominated for a Grammy award for Best Reggae Album. The album was listed at #12 on The Rolling Stone’s list of the top 50 albums of 2012, saying "There's ska, rock steady, roots reggae, a revelatory cover of The Clash's "Guns of Brixton" delivered in Cliff's trademark soulful tenor, grittier but still lovely more than 40 years after his debut." Film Credits Jimmy Cliff starred in the 1972 Perry Henzell written and directed classic film “The Harder they Come’ which told the story of Ivanhoe "Ivanhoe" Martin, a young man from the country who journeys to Kingston to try to make it in the recording business. Having no success he turns to a life of crime. The film is today considered a “cult classic” and its soundtrack album was a huge success that sold well across the world helping considerably in bringing reggae to an international audience for the first time. It remains one of the most internationally significant films to have come out of Jamaica since independence. Cliff has starred in other film productions including the 1986 Club Paradise as Revolutionary Ernest Reed and appeared in “Marked for Death” with Steven Seagal. He appeared as himself in the 2013 American documentary about FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama.

Order of Merit On October 20th, 2003, the Government of Jamaica awarded James “Jimmy Cliff” Chambers “The Order of Merit”, the Nation's second-highest honour, in recognition of his contributions to the film and music of Jamaica. Jimmy Cliff and Mervyn Morris; Poet and Professor Emeritus of the University of the West Indies are the only currently living figures from the Arts to hold this distinction and Jimmy Cliff is the only living musician to do so. In September 2009, he was nominated for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, following a campaign on his behalf by the American, Charles Earle. Cliff reacted to the news by saying, "This is good for Cliff, good for Jamaican music and good for my country." On 15 December 2009, he was officially announced as an inductee and was inducted on 15 March 2010 by Wyclef Jean.

Sources: Encyclopedia of Reggae: Mike Alleyne; Solid Foundation; David Katz; Wikipedia; Jamaica Gleaner.

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