Jimmy Cliff was the first true international Jamaican star. While he never reached the acclaim of Bob Marley, he paved the way for reggae's global success as groovy, melodic music packed with the power to affect political and social change.
His importance musically is summed up in this song, released in 1969 on Jimmy Cliff, one of the five best Jamaican records of all time.
Reggae often describes a feeling and shared ancestry -- and, to Americans, it's synonymous with Jamaican music -- but Cliff bridged many different genres birthed on the island. Dub, rock steady, roots reggae and classic soul from the United States informed Cliff's unique, driving sound. His desperate, emphatic voice was always a force, his bands always impeccable, his songs unforgettable.