Nash, whose health had been in decline, died at his home of natural causes on Tuesday, his son told US media.
The musician began singing as a child and made his major label debut with the 1957 song A Teenager Sings the Blues.
Nash, born in Houston, was one of the first non-Jamaican singers to record reggae music in Kingston, Jamaica.
According to his official website, Nash helped reggae legend Bob Marley sign a recording contract.
Nash’s covers of songs like Stir It Up helped bring Marley’s music to a broader audience, and the pair later collaborated on a track called You Poured Sugar On Me.
‘Music is for the ears and not the age’
In an interview with Zoo World magazine in 1973, Nash told journalist Cameron Crowe he hoped his music had wide appeal. “I feel that music is universal. Music is for the ears and not the age. Everybody likes music… from eight to 80.
Reacting to the news of his death, singer Boy George credited Nash, with his “voice like silk”, as one of the artists who “made me fall in love” with reggae.
R.I.P to the reggae legend Johnny Nash. One of the artists who made me fall in love with lovers rock and reggae music in the early 70s. So many amazing tunes and a voice like silk. I have never really known a time with reggae music. He was one of the greatest. #JohnnyNash
— Boy George (the truth is in your breath) (@BoyGeorge) October 7, 2020
British ska band The Beat described it as “a sad day for music”.
US actor John Cusack also paid tribute to the late singer online, thanking him for allowing them to use his most famous track in the 1997 movie Grosse Pointe Blank.
— John Cusack (@johncusack) October 7, 2020
Actress and singer Holly Robinson Peete offered: “Rest in peace Johnny Nash”, while fellow musician Rex Chapman added: “2020 is the worst… Rest, Sir.”
Besides his son John, Nash is survived by his wife, Carli.