Johnny Nash, pioneering non-Jamaican reggae artist, has died at age 80

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His most famous song, a hit from 1972, is too often used to sell glass cleaner due to its line “I can see clearly now…” is all that most Americans know about Johnny Nash. The lush, but groovy song captures upbeat vibes in a way that is classic.

Without background knowledge, not everyone would know that Johnny Nash was an American singing and recording reggae in Kingston, Jamaica. He was one of few artists to do so. This week, Nash died. He was 80 years old.

Johnny Nash’s early career

Nash’s soulful sound became a cornerstone of his career early on. According to various sources, he was a singer in a Baptist church in his native Houston. By 1953, he was already singing on local radio and television programs, and by 1956, he could be heard the Arthur Godfrey radio and television programs. Nash would perform this way for seven years.

In an era that already seemed chock full of super talented performers like Little Richard, Elvis, Ritchie Valens, Jerry Lee Lewis and others, it would seem a young singer might get intimidated by what might look like a saturated market. Still, Nash continued singing, and in 1957, he released “A Teenager Sings the Blues.”

Nash’s early career is also characterized by covers of Doris Day songs and other takes on popular music. But by 1972, he had his own way of looking at the world. Into the romantic gloom and general pessimism found in popular music and elsewhere, Nash injected a feel-good groove that remains a classic almost 50 years later.

The sound of “I Can See Clearly Now” by Johnny Nash

With a mellow reggae sound, Nash put forth a song of hope. His voice sounds so clear, and never at odds with the gentle background music. Nash never over-sings and his pronunciation makes every sentiment obvious to listeners. It is almost impossible not to feel good about something when listening to this song.

Nash’s passing comes just one day after the death of iconic guitarist Eddie Van Halen. The music world reels at the loss of these legends.

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