Caribbean music continues to evolve, and at the end of the day it is all about the rhythm. Each generation
relates to the artists of their time, with the exception being those artists whose music has withstood the test
One of these musical icons is Jamaica’s Millie Small and her big hits. Sadly, it was recently announcement by Chris Blackwell, founder of Island Records, which was Small’s record label, that she had died from a stroke on May 5 in London at the age of 72.
Small was born on Oct. 6, 1946, in the Parish of Clarendon in Jamaica. Her singing career got started at the
tender age of 12. In 1960, Small entered a singing contest at Vere Johns Opportunity Hour, a talent show in
Montego Bay, and won. It paved the way for her to meet Roy Panton, who made it possible for her to record her first duet at age 12.
The song was “We’ll Meet,” producer Clement “Sir Coxton” Dodd. Another successful record was “Sugar Plum.”
Later in life Small immigrated to London, which became her permanent home.
In 1964, she had a big hit with “My Boy Lollipop.” Many of her fans did not know that it was R&B singer Barbie Gaye who originally wrote and sang “My Boy Lollipop” back in 1956. Who would have thought that in the early 1960s Small would take it and make it her own. She turn the tune into an international song that sold millions of records worldwide.
In 2011, when Jamaica celebrated its 49th year of independence, Smalls was awarded the country’s highest honor. The Order of Distinction in rank of commander for her contributions to the development of Jamaican music industry.
A number of people living here in the Philadelphia area had some memories of the artist and that specific song. Vincent Heath said that the song My Boy Lollipop was a little before his time but he remembers hearing it at an early age. “Ska Ska Ska Jamaican Ska, I did listen to it but didn’t get it until later during replays. It is probably the most memorable music from the Ska genre,” said Heath.
“I admired Millie Smalls for paving the way for many others,” said Lloyd Cummings of WURD, host of “Caribbean Magazine.”
“Having lived in London for several years, I recall my favorite places to hang out with my friends. We often
danced to Millie Smalls music at places such as Sukle Que Club in Paddington in Brixton,. The corner pubs at Sunner Leyton Rd and Geneva Road were also in Brixton, “ he added. “I couldn’t stand still when I heard those mellow ska rhythms coming out of the sound systems, just had to get my ska on.
Jocelyn Servin, a Jamaican who currently lives in London, said that “back in the 1960s Millie Small was one of the most popular female artists, not just in Jamaica but all over the world. Caribbean immigrants in their
eighties we can remember doing the ska to the lyrics — ‘My Boy Lollipop, he makes my heart go giddyup, he sets my world on fire.’ “
“She had a distinct singing voice that was childlike,” said Servin. “As a young teen, I would turn on the radio
to one of two stations (JBC and RJR) I knew Millie’s song would be playing within that hour.”
“The dance was Ska back in those days and the sound system played loudly in our town. “My Boy Lollipop” was the most popular song on party nights,” she continued. “There were jukeboxes in the local restaurant and bars and that song was the pick.” “Everybody knew the lyrics and belted it out, but since that song was one of my favorites it was alright with me. I couldn’t get enough of it.”
“For most Jamaican entertainers at that time, including my brother, Winston Samuels, the Vere Johns Opportunity Hour talent show was a stepping stone,” said Barbara Wilson of Caribbean Festival of PA.
“My brother was introduced to entertainers like Millie Small before she migrated to the UK. Her music was very likable. Her big hit ‘My Boy Lollipop’ was well received both abroad and in Jamaica as she really opened the doors for ska. Everyone was proud of her,” Wilson added.
“Although Barbie Gayle sang it first, Millie’s version made it a tremendous hit. Was she comfortably
recompensed for all that — I would say a big no. Like all the entertainers in those days — like my brother
Winston Samuels — they loved the art of being an entertainer more than being a money-grabbing entertainers. Because of that, they were actually robbed of their royalties. I am sure in the USA there are stories like that,” she said.
“One love Millicent, and may your soul rest in perpetual peace,” Wilson said.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author. They are not necessarily intended to reflect the views of the Philadelphia Tribune.