7 Phenomenal Jamaicans Who Deserve A Lot More Credit
(May 19, 1948 – present)
Revolutionary style icon, Grace Jones, was born in Spanish Town in 1948 before her family moved to the United States. Grace grew up in New York, then moved to Paris where her modeling career took off. With a signature Techno-colour makeup style that included bold brows, and heavily pigmented eyes and lips, Jones has posed for top photographers and has been the face of many famous designers like Yves Saint Laurent and Kenzo.
Jones has also had a successful career in music beginning with her debut album Portfolio (1977). Her fame swelled even further when she performed disco nights at Studio 54, and released popular reggae hits like “Pull Up to the Bumper,” “Slave to the Rhythm,” and “My Jamaican Guy”.
Jones’ dramatic, yet iconic, style amplified her sex appeal on screen, first as a Bond girl in ‘A View to a Kill’ (1985), and as a surrealist stripper in ‘Vamp’ (1986), where her appearance with mosaic body art is etched in artistic history.
(April 28, 1940 – December 20, 1995)
Jamaican actress Madge Sinclair is best remembered for her Emmy nominated appearance in the classic television drama Roots (1977), in which she played the role of Kunta Kente’s wife. Born in Kingston, Sinclair attended Shortwood College and worked as a teacher in Jamaica until age 30 when she migrated to New York.
She made her film debut in ‘Conrack’ (1974) playing a single-minded school principal who clashes with Jon Voigt. However, Sinclair is perhaps best remembered for her portrayal as Eddie Murphy’s mother in ‘Coming to America’ (1988), and for her long-running role as levelheaded nurse Ernestine Shoop in the popular drama series ‘Trapper John, M.D.’, for which she received three Emmy nominations.
Sinclair won an Emmy for her role as James Earl Jones’ love interest in the ABC series ‘Gabriel’s Fire’, as well as a Los Angeles regional Emmy for the 1987 drama ‘Look Away’. She also had roles in ‘Leadbelly’ (1976), ‘Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home’ (1986), and was the voice of the lion queen in Disney’s smash hit animated feature ‘The Lion King’ (1994).
(April 1, 1948 – present)
International reggae star and Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Jimmy Cliff was born James Chambers in St. James. Shortly after his musical career began, Cliff starred in the 1972 film ‘The Harder They Come’, and his single of the same name brought his music to an international audience.
Cliff’s hits, many of which, have been featured in movies and commercials, include ‘Reggae Nights’, ‘I Can See Clearly Now’, ‘Wonderful World, Beautiful People’ and ‘Many Rivers to Cross’. One of his most popular songs include a 1994 collaboration to produce the song “Hakuna Matata” for the soundtrack of the popular Disney film ‘The Lion King’. In 2002, Cliff performed at the closing ceremony of the Commonwealth Games, and his 2011 album, ‘Rebirth’, was nominated for a Grammy Award.
Jimmy Cliff was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in March 2010.
(August 17, 1887 – June 10, 1940)
Known globally as a strident black nationalist and civil rights fighter, Marcus Mosiah Garvey was born in St Ann’s Bay, Jamaica in 1887.
He founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) in 1914, and became a formidable public speaker, travelling around America promoting black pride and African repatriation. In support of his ‘back to Africa’ ideology, Garvey started a shipping company in 1919 called the Black Star Line, to provide transportation to Africa.
His advocacy for the rights of black people made him a target of the United States government, and in 1922, Garvey was arrested for mail fraud. On his release, Garvey was deported to Jamaica. He moved to London in 1935 and lived there until his death in 1940. In 1964, his body was returned to Jamaica and buried at National Heroes Park. Garvey was declared the country’s first national hero in 1969.
(December 7, 1956 – present)
Born Michael McKenzie McCallum in Kingston, he earned the nickname “The Body Snatcher” during an impressive boxing career.
After several amateur successes, Mike McCallum turned pro in 1981, amassing a 240-10 record throughout his career. With his fierce body punching boxing style, he won the vacant WBA junior middleweight title in 1984, and successfully defended the title six times before deciding to compete in the middleweight category. He lost a 12-round decision to Sumbu Kalambay for the WBA middleweight championship in 1988, but the following year, he defeated Herol Graham for the WBA middleweight title.
In 1991, McCallum challenged the IBF middleweight champion James ‘Lights Out’ Toney, but that bout ended in a draw. A subsequent 12-round rematch was decided in Toney’s favour. McCallum later moved to the light heavyweight class and won the WBC title from Jeff Harding in 1994, which made him a three-division champion. McCallum retired from the ring with a 49-5-1 record that included an outstanding 36 knock-outs.
(January 1, 1973 – present)
While Canada is where Stacey McKenzie grew up, the international supermodel, TV personality and motivational speaker was born in Kingston, Jamaica.
One of the most recognizable faces in the fashion industry, the self-trained cat-walker was recently named by VOGUE magazine as one of five Jamaican models who changed the industry. McKenzie has appeared in many of the world’s top fashion magazines including VOGUE, Harpers Bazaar, Interview, Essence, and Flare. The freckle-faced beauty has also featured in advertising campaigns for Calvin Klein, Jean Paul Gaultier and MAC Cosmetics, and has appeared on-screen as a flight attendant in the 1997 hit ‘The Fifth Element’.
Off the runway, McKenzie has made appearances as a model coach/mentor on the reality show series America’s Next Top Model, and on the Slice Network Style Factory as a style expert. She was also a judge on Canada’s Next Top Model, and model mentor on MTV.
McKenzie is the founder of Walk This Way Workshops Inc., an organization designed to empower and educate young people in the fashion industry. She has been recognized for her achievements with the Women in Media Award from Scarborough Centre for Healthy Communities and the Jackie Robinson Fortitude Award.
(October 19, 1944 – September 11, 1987)
One of the early pioneers of Reggae music, Peter Tosh was born in Westmoreland in 1944, before moving to Trench Town in Kingston. There, he met Bob Marley and Bunny Wailer while selling sugarcane juice from a cart.
The three started the Wailers Band in 1962, releasing more than 20 chart hits before the group split in 1973. Tosh’s solo musical career took off with the release of his debut album ‘Legalize It’ in 1976, followed by ‘Equal Rights’ the following year. His albums echoed his staunch belief in Rastafarianism, and his advocacy for the legal use of marijuana (ganja).
Tosh’s international fame was propelled even further after he collaborated with Mick Jagger on the Temptations’ hit “(You’ve Got to Walk and) Don’t Look Back.”
He was killed during an attempted robbery at his home in 1987 at the age of 42. In 2016, Tosh’s family opened a museum dedicated to the artist’s life and work in Kingston, Jamaica.