Much has been made about the growth and impact of Ska as an indigenous music from Jamaica between 1961 and 1966 and along the way this music spawned the careers of some great names in Jamaican music. One such name was Millie Small; born Millicent Dolly-May Small on October 6, 1946 in the district of Gibraltar in the parish of Clarendon, Jamaica. Millie was the daughter of a sugar plantation overseer, and like many Jamaican singers of the era her career began by winning the Vere Johns Opportunity Hour talent contest in 1958 at the tender age of twelve.
Dared to Dream
Millie dared to dream of a career as a singer and in order to pursue this dream she moved into Kingston to live with relatives in Love Lane in the downtown area of the capital. It was here while in her early teens that she scored with her first recording effort when she recorded a duet with Owen Gray; a tune entitled "Sugar Plum" in 1962 and later recorded with Roy Panton for Clement “Sir Coxsone” Dodd as 'Roy and Millie' scoring a hit with the single "We'll Meet".Her success with these early efforts brought her to the attention of one Chris Blackwell who became her manager and legal guardian before shipping her off to the United Kingdom in 1963. There she was presented with the task of covering the 1956 Barbie Gaye pop song “My Girl Lollipop” The record was rearranged by Earnest Rangling and renamed “My Boy Lollipop.” Blackwell was well aware that he did not have the resources to seriously market the record and as a result licensed it to Fontana Records (a subsidiary of Phillips Records) who released it as a Pop Record (not Ska) in March 1964. It is important to keep in mind that Fontana as a result of their ownership by a big record company had the necessary connections to secure broad (global) distribution as well as to secure air-play for their releases on multiple radio stations; something Blackwell would not have been able to do with his “Island Records” label. Furthermore, beyond mostly West Indians in Britain no one took the “Blue Beat” label and by extension their Ska releases too seriously.
My Boy Lollipop
“My Boy Lollipop” sold more than 600,000 copies in England, and raced to #2 on the Pop Charts there as well as on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart. It settled at #3 in Canada and was #1 in Australia. Along the way "My Boy Lollipop" sold more than seven million copies as a single; making Millie Small the first Jamaican artiste to have a million seller and to realize recording success internationally. Millie released other works including “Sweet William” and "Oh Henry" two other Pop efforts as well as “Bloodshot Eyes” for Fontana Records with whom she continued recording up until 1968. Millie Small was accorded the Order of Distinction (Commander Class) on August 6, 2011 by the Government and people of Jamaica for her contribution to Jamaican music. She died in the UK on May 5, 2020 after reportedly suffering a stroke and is survived by her daughter Jaelee who is a singer/songwriter.
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