Jimmy Cliff was born James Chambers in 1948 in St. Catherine, Jamaica. At age 18, he moved to Kingston and began a career as a musician. When asked why he entered the music business, Jimmy Cliff said "there was nothing else I really liked doing."
In 1973, Cliff starred in a film called The Harder They Come, where he played a reggae singer trying to make it big in America. Reggae music was breaking big in the US at the time, and it looked like Cliff was going to be the breakout star. The movie underperformed and Cliff's subsequent albums didn't catch on, so it was Bob Marley who ended up becoming reggae's global superstar.
In 1993, Jimmy Cliff re-recorded a new version of the Johnny Nash song "I Can See Clearly Now
." The song was featured on the soundtrack for the film Cool Runnings
, a comedy about the Jamaican bobsled team's first experience at the Winter Olympics in Calgary in 1988.
Jimmy Cliff was one of five performers inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2010. The other inductees that year included ABBA, Genesis, The Hollies, and The Stooges. Cliff was only the second reggae performer to be welcomed into the Hall.
In 2003, Jimmy Cliff was awarded the Order of Merit by his home country Jamaica for his notable contributions to music and film. The award is the third-highest in the country and he became only one of two living Jamaicans to earn the award.
Jimmy Cliff's first producer, Leslie Kong, used to run an ice cream parlor and restaurant in Kingston, Jamaica. The shop was called Beverly's and it also sold records. One night, Cliff was walking by the store late at night as they were closing. On a whim, he decided to go in and ask Kong if he'd be interested in making records with him. Kong agreed and Cliff's career started taking off soon after.
In 2012, Jimmy Cliff entered the studio to record a new album with Rancid frontman Tim Armstrong. The collaboration seems unusual, but Armstrong says Cliff is one of his "most admired artists."
Jimmy Cliff's song "Trapped" reached new audiences when Bruce Springsteen covered the song on his tours in the early '80s. Springsteen's version also appeared on the 1985 charity compilation We Are the World.