Millie Small was a Jamaican singer-songwriter who achieved international fame with her hit song “My Boy Lollipop” in 1964. Small was a pioneer of the ska music genre, which originated in Jamaica in the late 1950s and blended elements of Caribbean music with American R&B.
Millie Small was born on October 6, 1947, in Clarendon, Jamaica. She grew up in a family of thirteen children and began singing in her local church choir at a young age. In her teenage years, she entered and won a talent contest, then later moved to Kingston, where she auditioned for legendary Studio One producer, Coxsone Dodd. Impressed by her sound, Dodd teamed her with singer Owen Gray, and they enjoyed some success with one of their records, “Sugar Plum, which became a local hit.
Small went on to record with another singer, Samuel Augustus “Roy” Panton and they worked with producers Coxsone Dodd, Lindon Pottinger and Prince Buster, before catching the ear of now renowned entrepreneur and founder of Island Records, Chris Blackwell. Impressed by her sound, Blackwell became Small’s manager and mover her to London, where she recorder her first UK single, “Don’t You Know”. Unfortunately the song didn’t do well, but Blackwell decided to pair her with guitarist and arranger Ernest Ranglin for her next session.
Small recorded the song “My Boy Lollipop”, a song originally recorded by American teenager Barbie Gaye in 1956. Small’s version was recorded with the backing of Ernest Ranglin and his musicians, who gave it that popular ska style, and it became an instant hit in the UK and the US, reaching number two on the UK charts and number one on the US charts. The song’s upbeat tempo, catchy melody, and Small’s distinctive voice made it a worldwide sensation, and it has since been covered by many artists in different styles.
Following the success of “My Boy Lollipop,” Small continued to record music, including the albums “Millie” and “Time Will Tell,” which featured more ska and rocksteady tracks. She also toured extensively, performing in countries such as the UK, Germany, and the US. However, she never achieved the same level of commercial success as her debut hit, and by the mid-1960s, she had largely retired from the music industry.
Small’s legacy, however, lives on. Her influence can be heard in the ska and reggae music of the 1970s and beyond, and her contribution to the popularization of Jamaican music on a global scale cannot be overstated. In 2011, Small was awarded the Order of Distinction by the Jamaican government for her contribution to the country’s music industry.
Sadly, Small passed away on May 5, 2020, at the age of 73, in London. Her death was mourned by fans and fellow musicians alike, and her influence on the music world was celebrated once again. Small’s contribution to the music industry was a testament to her talent and the enduring power of Jamaican music. Her timeless hit, “My Boy Lollipop,” sold over six million copies worldwide and became one of the biggest-selling ska recordings of all time.