He was an unheralded pioneer who bridged the musical sounds of pop and R&B with reggae, and in the process created musical gold, including an all-time great hit, “I Can See Clearly Now.” Today we say a sad goodbye to singer and songwriter Johnny Nash. He was 80 years old.
Born John Lester Nash in Houston, Nash was a precocious performer who was singing on local television by his mid-teens. He signed with ABC Records at age 17 and scored his first national hit the following year with “A Very Special Love.” He continued to record with moderate success for another decade, never quite reaching the level of notoriety that his talent deserved.
A move to Jamaica in the mid-60s changed Nash’s outlook and the breadth of his musical interest. After meeting reggae legend Bob Marley, he became enmeshed in the local music scene, expanding his musical horizons to incorporate the sounds of his new home.
With a refreshing new sound, Nash began scoring pop hits that bore a reggae feel. “Hold Me Tight” hit the top 10 and became the theme song for the popular Score haircare commercials. Then in 1972 Nash released what became his signature hit with “I Can See Clearly Now,” landing at #1 in several countries. Nash also became active as a producer, working with Marley and with fellow reggae legend Peter Tosh.
Nash’s career slowed down by the end of the 70s and he issued a final album in 1986. Sadly, much of his master recordings were reportedly destroyed in the Universal Records fire in 2008 and may be lost forever.
Johnny Nash’s name may not mean much to younger music fans, but his role in bringing reggae sounds to popular music should not be understated, and his talent as a songwriter and singer were always top tier. He will be missed.
Chris Rizik is the publisher of Soul Tracks. He welcomes readers’ responses to email@example.com. We thank Soul Tracks for sharing this story with us.