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Talking With Jimmy Cliff, Shepherd Of Reggae Music

Jimmy Cliff performs in 2003 in Nice, France.
Pascal Guyot
AFP/Getty Images
Jimmy Cliff performs in 2003 in Nice, France.

This week, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame got a little more crowded.

Monday night marked the Hall's 25th annual induction ceremony. In the class of five: The Stooges, the Hollies, ABBA, Genesis and reggae star Jimmy Cliff.

Cliff is the second reggae artist, after Bob Marley, to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. But he actually preceded Marley in bringing reggae to the international stage, appearing in and performing his songs for the 1972 film The Harder They Come. He has also enjoyed a long and fruitful career in music, with a formidable string of albums and high-profile collaborations to his name.

Host Michele Norris spoke with Jimmy Cliff about the honor, and about his early path to reggae. He said his first experiences with music came through churches.

"There was a lot of church music around — all different kinds of churches," he said. "Churches that we call Pocomania, which is like the original African church where they just play drums and chant and that kind of thing. So there was all kind of music around me growing up."

Cliff says he first heard rock 'n' roll music through a friend, who relayed information about new songs through his radio. And then his father got a radio, too.

"Well, my father wanted me to be educated — maybe be doctor, or one of those professions that seems safe," he says. "So while I was taking higher lessons — while I was about to take it — he said, 'Now, which would you prefer: the higher lessons, we have to pay for it? Or spend the money to buy a radio?' I said, 'Buy the radio!' "

Cliff spoke on growing up "economically poor, spiritually rich," its impact on his music, and being seen as an ambassador of reggae.

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