HOUSTON – Carlie Nash still has the leather-fringed, bell-bottomed outfits her late husband wore as he performed his greatest hit.
“When he was on Soul Train, I think he had this on,” she said holding up a black jacket.
Johnny Nash passed away at his southside Houston home on October 6 of natural causes, according to his family. He was 80.
The Third Ward native’s song, “I Can See Clearly Now,” took him to the top of the charts in 1972 in both the United States and the United Kingdom.
“It was a song mixed with soul, rocksteady, ska and a positive message,” said his son, John Nash III.
Johnny Nash started singing at age four at Progressive New Hope Baptist Church. But his family says it was his singing as a teen caddy at the Hermann Park golf course that set him on his path to stardom.
“My father’s friend let Mr. Stockton know that my father sang and he said ‘if you sing a number for us we’ll double your tip,’ and that opened up all the doors right there,” John Nash III said.
At just 14 years old, he landed a weekly gig on Matinee, a variety show that aired on KPRC-TV.
At the age of 17, he won a nationally televised talent show and signed his first record deal. And by 18, he was starring in movies.
On Wednesday afternoon, ahead of a public viewing for Nash, his family poured over a kitchen table full of memorabilia from his career. A magazine article with a headline that read, “America’s First Negro Teen Idol!,” alongside pictures of Nash with Muhammad Ali and Barbara Jordan and framed gold records.
Nash moved to Jamaica in the 1960s and is credited with introducing Bob Marley and reggae to mainstream American audiences.
“My dad said, ‘You need a bigger stage so come with me,’” John Nash III said.
He was working with Marley on a soundtrack to another film when he came up with the song that would make him famous.
“In between takes on set, my dad would just be twiddling around with his guitar and he started humming ‘I can see clearly now,” said John Nash III.
It’s the song we all know and love, but for his widow Carlie, another tune holds her heart. A song that went unreleased in the U.S.
“My favorite song is ‘Rock Me Baby’. I inspired him to write the song. We had just met at The Caribana (reggae club). He was telling in the song how he could smell my perfume. It’s a great tune. I love it,” she said with a schoolgirl like giggle.
The two knew each other as teens in Houston, but reunited and married when Nash returned to Houston to settle down in the 1980s.
He devoted his life after music to his family and community. He created The Johnny Nash Indoor Arena to provide a home for Black cowboys and cowgirls and led trail rides to collect food for the needy in Third Ward.
A private funeral service will take place Thursday.