Johnny Nash was the first in many ways: the first black television star, still underage; the first American to make records in Jamaica and, in 1968 with “Hold Me Tight”, the first musician to put reggae on the American charts. Initially a mixture of Sidney Poitier and Stevie Wonder, the well-groomed, yes, almost a little germ-free light music in the style of Doris Day or Nat “King” Cole, and avoiding any sharpness or rebellion, was worn by the singer, born in Houston, Texas in 1940 now significantly contributes to the popularization of reggae.
With his flexible tenor and springy rhythm, he gave this music a garment that was far more compatible with the masses, knitted with plenty of soul than the Jamaicans Jimmy Cliff and Bob Marley. The latter gave him the title “Stir It Up”. And it wasn’t until Nash’s elegance that a classic like Sam Cooke’s “Cupid” really blossomed.
He landed a hit that is still in worldwide circulation in 1972 with his own composition “I Can See Clearly Now”, which became something like the epitome of reggae. At CBS, where he has been under contract since then, after turning his back on JAD Records, which he co-founded, he recorded albums of incomparable smoothness at the interface of pop, soul and reggae.
Reggae, for which he had prepared the ground, made a different, considerably more roots-conscious development in the new decade. John Lester “Johnny” Nash, who has now died at the age of eighty, has been one of its most engaging, engaging performers.