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Cliff, Jimmy (Chambers, James)

reggae jamaica harder music

Cliff, Jimmy (Chambers, James), established in the Caribbean, Latin America, and Europe as a reggae artist by the late 1960s, introduced reggae to a mainstream American audience with the 1973 film The Harder They Come; b. Somerton, Jamaica, April 1, 1948.

Cliff starred in the movie and provided the enduring songs “Sitting in Limbo” and “The Harder They Come” to the soundtrack. Along with Bob Marley and Peter Tosh, Cliff was a prime purveyor of reggae music, and although his albums have been criticized as pop-oriented, he did provide authentic reggae in concert.

Jimmy Cliff moved to Kingston, Jamaica, after his primary-school graduation. He recorded his first single in Jamaica in 1958, and scored his first local hit with “Hurricane Hattie” in 1961. Cliff toured the United States as part of a ska revue in 1964, and subsequently signed with Island Records and moved to England. Established in Europe, the Caribbean, and Latin America by 1965, he returned to Jamaica in 1968 and scored his first major American hit with “Wonderful World, Beautiful People” in 1970. Reggae finally broke big in the United States in 1973 with the release of the film The Harder They Come, starring Cliff. The soundtrack album included three Cliff originals, “You Can Get It If You Really Want,” “Sitting in Limbo,” and “The Harder They Come,” Cliff’s version of Bob Mar-ley’s “Many Rivers to Cross,” plus the Melodians’ “Rivers of Babylon,” the Slickers’ “Johnny Too Bad,” and the May tais’ “Pressure Drop.”

By the late 1970s Jimmy Cliff’s recorded music was moving in a pop direction, but his tours provided authentic roots music. Recording for Columbia in the 1980s, he costarred with Robin Williams in the 1986 movie Club Paradise and toured with Stevie Winwood that year. Switching to JRS Records for 1992’s Breakout, Jimmy Cliff tours six months per year, performing to his most enthusiastic audiences in Brazil and Africa.

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