Johnny Nash: life and best songs of the ‘I Can See Clearly Now’ singer as he dies aged 80

Nash helped to launch the career of musician Bob Marley after he signed him to his music label

Wednesday, 7th October 2020, 12:54 pm
Johnny Nash released I Can See Clearly Now in 1972 (Photo by Ron Case/Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Johnny Nash released I Can See Clearly Now in 1972 (Photo by Ron Case/Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Singer and songwriter Johnny Nash, best known for his hit song I Can See Clearly Now, has passed away at the age of 80.

The singer's health had been in decline, and on 6 October, he died of natural causes at his home in Houston where he was born, his family confirmed.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Who was Johnny Nash?

Johnny Nash was an American singer-songwriter who had a number of hit songs, including I Can See Clearly Now which was released in 1972, topping the charts.

Nash was also an actor and producer, and appeared in roles like Take a Giant Step (1959), Key Witness (1960) and Love Is Not a Game (1971).

Nash was also one of the very first non-Jamacian singers to record reggae music in Kingston, Jamaica.

He also helped launch the career of iconic Jamaican musician, Bob Marley.

What was his life like?

Nash was born 19 August 1940 in Houston, Texas, to parents Eliza and John Lester Nash.

He grew up singing in his church and beginning in 1953, at just 13 years old, Nash sang covers of R&B songs on Matinee, a show on local television.

From 1956, Nash sang on Arthur Godfrey’s radio and TV shows for seven years.

In 1957, Nash made his major label debut with ABC Paramount with his single A Teenager Sings the Blues, and a year later had his first chart hit with his cover of Doris Day’s A Very Special Love.

In 1965, Nash was co-running his own record label, JAD Records, and was introduced to struggling group, The Wailers, which featured members Bob Marley, Bunny Wailer and Peter Tosh.

Nash signed all three to an exclusive publishing and recording contract with his JAD label, and financed some of their recordings.

Later in his life, Nash lived with his family on a ranch in Houston, where he managed rodeo shows at the Johnny Nash Indoor Arena.

What songs was he known for?

Nash's signature song is I Can See Clearly Now, reportedly written whilst Nash was recovering from cataract surgery.

The song is a story about overcoming hard times, which rock critic Robert Christgau called “two minutes and 48 seconds of undiluted inspiration”.

While I Can See Clearly Now was released in 1972, the song surged back into the charts in 1993 due to a cover by Jimmy Cliff for the film Cool Runnings.

His other well known songs included Hold Me Tight, Stir It Up and You Got Soul.

In the UK, Nash’s biggest hit was his song Tears On My Pillow, which reached number one in the UK singles chart in July 1975 for one week.

Talking to Zoo World Magazine in 1973, Nash said: “I feel that music is universal. Music is for the ears and not the age.

“There are some people who say that they hate music. I’ve run into a few, but I’m not sure I believe them.”

Nash’s last album came out in 1986, called Here Again. He also sang the opening theme to the 1960s cartoon The Mighty Hercules.

Was he married and did he have children?

Nash has two children, his son Johnny Nash Jr and daughter Monica.

Nash is also survived by his third wife, Carli Nash, whom he was married to until his death.