Jimmy Cliff began performing as a child in local shows and fairs around his home in Saint James, Jamaica. By fourteen the young James Chambers felt ready and moved to Kingston, changing his name to Jimmy Cliff to express the heights he hoped to reach.
After a pair of unsuccessful singles, Cliff began working with producer Leslie Kong and together they recorded a string of hits in the 60s. Many Jamaican musicians of that day would move on to different producers and studios, but Cliff remained loyal to Kong until his death in 1971.
A big break for Cliff was his selection by the Jamaican government to represent the country at the 1964 New York World’s Fair and that same year he was one of the performers appearing in the film This is Ska. In 1972 Cliff was active again in cinema, starring in the classic reggae film The Harder They Fall. Still considered the most important film to come from Jamaica, the movie launched Cliff’s international career, bringing him spots on the Dick Cavett Show and the initial season of Saturday Night Live.
After years of touring following the release of The Harder They Fall, Jimmy Cliff recorded Cliff-Hanger. The album won a Grammy for best reggae album. It was Jimmy Cliff’s lat major success in the US for a decade, although he remained active and visible through contributions to socially conscious collections like Artists United Against Apartheid, and work with the Rolling Stones on their Dirty Work album.
He reappeared in the mainstream with his soundtrack work on Cool Runnings and The Lion King in the 90s. He kept his music fresh in the early 2000s with collaborative work with Joe Strummer, Annie Lennox and Sting. Cliff received the Jamaican Order of Merit in 2003 and is now the only living musician to hold the honor.
Unlike many of his fellow reggae musicians, Cliff is not a member of the Rastafari movement.After trying multiple religions, Cliff now describes his belief as a “universal outlook on life”.