The Honourable Jimmy Cliff, OM (born James Chambers; 1 April 1948) is a Jamaican ska and reggae singer, musician, and actor. He is the only currently living musician to hold the Order of Merit, the highest honour that can be granted by the Jamaican government for achievement in the arts and sciences. He is best known among mainstream audiences for songs such as "Sitting in Limbo," "You Can Get It If You Really Want," and "Many Rivers to Cross" from the soundtrack to The Harder They Come, which helped popularize reggae across the world; and his covers of Cat Stevens' "Wild World" and Johnny Nash's "I Can See Clearly Now" from the film Cool Runnings. Outside of the reggae world, he is probably best known for his film appearance in The Harder They Come. Jimmy Cliff was one of five performers inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2010.
Cliff was born in Somerton District, St. James, Jamaica. He began writing songs while still at primary school in St. James, listening to a neighbour's sound system. In 1962 his father took him to Kingston to go to Kingston Technical school where he ended up sharing his cousin's one rented room in East Kingston. He sought out many producers while still going to school, trying to get his songs recorded without success. He also entered talent contests. "One night I was walking past a record store and restaurant as they were closing, pushed myself in and convinced one of them, Leslie Kong, to go into the recording business, starting with me," he writes in his own website biography. After two singles that failed to make much impression, his career took off when his "Hurricane Hattie" became a hit, while he was aged 14. It was produced by Kong, with whom Cliff remained until Kong's death from a heart attack in 1971. Cliff's later local hit singles included "King of Kings," "Dearest Beverley," "Miss Jamaica," and "Pride and Passion." In 1964, Cliff was chosen as one of the Jamaican representatives at the World's Fair and Cliff soon signed to Island Records and moved to the UK. Island Records initially (and unsuccessfully) tried to sell Cliff to the rock audience, but his career took off in the late 1960s. His international debut album was Hard Road to Travel, which received excellent reviews and included "Waterfall" (composed by Nirvana's Alex Spyropoulos and Patrick Campbell-Lyons), which became a hit in Brazil and won the International Song Festival.
"Waterfall" was followed in 1969 by "Wonderful World, Beautiful People" and "Vietnam" in 1970, both popular throughout most of the world. Bob Dylan called "Vietnam" the best protest song he had ever heard. Also during this period, Cliff released a cover of Cat Stevens' "Wild World" as a single, but it was not included on his Wonderful World, Beautiful People album.