Millicent Small (1946 - ) - The National Library of Jamaica

Millicent Small (1946 - )

Millicent Dolly May Small, popularly known as Millie Small was the first Jamaican singer to expose Jamaican popular music on the international scene with a song which became the first million-selling Jamaican song. Her rendition of “My Boy Lollipop” became the first Jamaican song to make it on the British and American music charts reaching number one in Britain and number two in the United States in 1964.

Millie Small was born in Vere, Clarendon on October 6, 1946. She was the daughter of an overseer on a sugar plantation and the youngest of a family of twelve. She was one of the very few female early ska era singers who originated from Clarendon.

In 1960, Small won a singing contest in at the popular Vere Johns Opportunity Hour talent contest at the Palladium Theatre in Montego Bay. She got about 10 shillings for her prize. This success led her to team up with Roy Panton at just twelve and a half years old, to form the duo Roy & Millie, who both recorded the song “We’ll Meet” for producer Clement “Coxsone” Dodd. She also did the song “Sugar Plum” for Coxsone, which was also a duet. Soon after she was heading the Jamaican disc hit parade. Small was paid the sum of £23 for three successful records.

When, founder of Island Records Label Chris Blackwell was twenty six he heard one of Millie’s local hits. He convinced Sir Coxsone that he could launch Small’s career if she came under his management. Blackwell brought her to England in late 1963 when she was old enough to travel alone. In later years Millie said that “I hadn’t planned on being a star, but I always wanted to be a singer, and I felt like it was my destiny to go to England.”

Chris Blackwell exclaimed that when he brought Millie to London his friends thought he was mad because calypso was the popular music then. Blackwell was actually the one who decided that Millie should do a cover of an American rhythm and blues song, My Boy Lollipop, originally done by Barbie Gaye in 1957. “My Boy Lollipop” is still regarded as one of the all-time biggest selling reggae or ska discs. Arley Cha who in 2006 was Millie’s producer said that the song still continues to be played every day across the United States, in every State, on CBS FM radio. In the same year the song held the number three spot for the greatest all time hit single for 1964,  number one and two were the Beatles and Rolling Stones respectively. Blackwell  had certainly surprised his critics as “My Boy Lollipop” went on to top the British charts  reaching number one in March 1964, eventually selling over seven million copies worldwide. It was also the first major hit for Island Records. The song reportedly stayed in the Nigerian Top Ten for six years. It had set the pace for subsequent chart toppers in England, Desmond Dekker’s “Israelites” and “Double Barrell” by Dave and Ansel Collins. Although Millie made little success with her follow up song “Sweet William” and others she toured Africa twice in the mid-1960s which secured her a place in history allowing the wider world to become familiar with Jamaican music.

Millie Small enjoyed popularity and success during the early period of her career. On her first visit to the United States while at the Kennedy International Airport, press photographers, newsmen, magazine editors, radio and television crews were there to meet They danced and laughed with her on what could be described as one of the warmest and most unusual receptions accorded to a foreign recording artist. Her flight was named The Lollipop Special as she received the world’s largest lollipop. She was idolized by many fans as was evident when the Port Authority police had to restrain an enthusiastic crowd of fans that went wild. Over thirty policemen had to surround Millie when they chanted “Sweet William” and tried to get through the protective barricade just to touch her. This was followed by a hectic schedule with the media, interviews and photo sessions.

In 1964, when Millie Small returned to Jamaica, she was greeted with a massive welcome home greeting party. She was escorted by police motorcycle to greet Prime Minister Sir Alexander Bustamante, and the Governor General of Jamaica. She was feted with ceremonies befitting royal visitors.

Probably the highlight of her success and popularity occurred when she returned to the United States for the New York World’s Fair 1964. The organizers had designated August 12th as Millie Small Day at the fair. Millie was the center of attraction on that day.  Music critics hailed Small as the greatest singing sensation since the Beatles.

Millie Small had recorded a number of other songs however, there was only two other hit singles, “Sweet William” and “Bloodshot Eyes”. There was also another popular song called “Oh Henry”.

On 6 August 2011, the 49th anniversary of the country’s independence, the Governor-General of Jamaica conferred the Order of Distinction in the rank of Commander (CD) upon Millicent (Millie) Dolly May Small, for her contribution to the development of the Jamaican music industry. The award was accepted on her behalf by former Prime Minister Edward Seaga.

Sources:      

Simons, Judith. “Magnificent Millie gets into the Hit Parade.” The Star 28 April 1964: 18. Print.

“When England went mad for Lollipop.” The Sunday Observer 29 March 1998:

“Millie not so ‘small’ anymore.”  The Sunday Gleaner 15 October 2006:  Teenville Magazine, Issue #2, 1964. Electronic.