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Farewell to Earnest Jackson, the iconic voice behind Planet Money's 'Inflation' song

RIP Earnest Jackson
Sarah Gonzalez
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NPR
RIP Earnest Jackson

When Planet Money spoke to the singer and songwriter Earnest Jackson back in 2022, the then 74-year-old was a bit wistful about his unrealized dream.

"I've always wanted to be a superstar," Jackson said. "I feel like I had the potential. And, you know, I haven't given up my dream. I pray on it all the time."

Jackson began writing and performing soul and R&B songs when he was just a teenager. Sure, he had some brushes with fame. But despite his talent and hard work, he, like so many other musicians, never really got his moment in the sun.

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That is until Planet Money got its hands on a dusty, old cassette tape of a song that Jackson wrote and recorded with a band called Sugar Daddy and the Gumbo Roux. The song is called "Inflation." And while it was recorded way back in 1975, during the heyday of stagflation, it really tapped into the inflationary zeitgeist of the last few years.

Earnest Jackson Tribute

We loved the "Inflation" song. It's jazzy and funky. Jackson's voice and lyrics really capture the pain and frustration of living in an economy in which the cost of living is skyrocketing. But despite the song being so good, it had never been released. So we decided to change that.

What followed was an odyssey into the music industry, all documented in a three-part podcast series. Planet Money started a record label with the aims of making the song a hit and Jackson a star (as well as learning the ins and outs of the music business).

And we are happy to report that the song ended up being a hit. On Spotify alone, the song has been streamed over 1.8 million times, putting it easily in the top one percent of all songs listened to on the streaming platform (less than one percent of songs on Spotify get more than a million listens).

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Planet Money Records' one and only release.

We are also happy to report that Jackson got a taste of what he had always dreamed of. He got recognition for his talent and artistry like never before. "Inflation" was streamed around the world, from Japan to Nigeria to Norway to Kazakhstan. Of particular significance to Jackson, the song was played on his favorite radio station, Q106.5 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The song also proved to be a launching pad for other work. Jackson, for example, was featured on the popular animated TV show Bob's Burgers, singing a song called "Gas in my car," which is about the gas crisis back in the 1970s.

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But, alas, we are sad to report that Earnest Jackson recently passed away in his hometown of Baton Rouge. He was 75.

In a recent episode of Planet Money, Jackson's son, Corey, told us that his dad was "ecstatic" about his late-found success. "He was in such good spirits, man," Corey said. "He was so happy about that."

We at Planet Money will never forget Earnest Jackson. Not only was he a great singer and songwriter, but, after spending hours with him, we learned that he was also a great man, with infectious ebullience and intoxicating charisma. His light may be extinguished, but his songs will continue to shine — including, of course, "Inflation," which is sure to resonate anytime prices rise in the economy.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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Greg Rosalsky
Since 2018, Greg Rosalsky has been a writer and reporter at NPR's Planet Money.