Phyllis Dillon – Pioneer, Trailblazer and Legend

Phyllis Dillon was a Jamaican singer who became a trailblazer for women in the reggae genre. She was born on December 27, 1944, in Linstead, St. Catherine, Jamaica. Her distinctive voice and unique style made her a beloved icon of the ska and rocksteady era of Jamaican music in the 1960s and 1970s. Though her music career was relatively short, Dillon left a lasting impact on the music world and is still revered by fans and musicians alike.

Dillon’s early life was marked by music, as she grew up singing in the church choir and performing in talent shows. She was discovered by Duke Reid’s session guitarist Lynn Tait, while she was performing with the group The Vulcans at the Glass Bucket Club in Kingston. Shortly after, Dillon connected with saxophonist Tommy McCook, who introduced her to Treasure Isle Records and renowned Jamaican producer Duke Reid, who offered her a recording contract in the early 1960s. Dillon’s first single, “Don’t Stay Away”, was a hit in Jamaica and set the stage for her meteoric rise in the music industry.

Her biggest hits include “Perfidia,” “Don’t Touch Me Tomato,” and “One Life to Live,” which showcased her soulful voice and playful lyrics. Dillon’s songs often tackled themes of love, heartbreak, and empowerment, and her music was embraced by fans in Jamaica and beyond. Her music had a universal appeal that transcended boundaries, and she quickly gained a following in the UK, where she toured extensively.

Despite her success, Dillon faced many challenges as a woman in the male-dominated music industry. She was often overlooked by critics and faced discrimination from some of her male peers. However, she persevered and continued to make music that resonated with fans around the world.

Dillon moved to New York in the late 1960s where she had a career in banking, a family and still found time to travel back and forth to Kingston, Jamaica to record her music. Unfortunately, Dillon chose to retire from the music industry in the early 1970s. Despite her relatively short music career, Dillon’s legacy continues to live on through her music. Her songs have been covered by countless artists over the years, and her influence can be heard in the music of contemporary female reggae artists like Jah9 and Koffee.

Dillon passed away on April 15, 2004, and will always be remembered as a pioneer of women in reggae music. Her impact on the music industry continues to be felt today, and her music remains a timeless reminder of the power of perseverance and the importance of following one’s dreams.

Things to know:

  • Phyllis Dillon was known as the “Queen of Rocksteady”, a genre of music that emerged in Jamaica in the mid-1960s.
  • Dillon was 22 when she recorded her first record for Duke Reid, who signed her to his Treasure Isle record label.
  • She recorded a number of popular rocksteady hits in the 1960s, including “Don’t Stay Away”, “Perfidia”, and “One Life to Live”.
  • Dillon’s voice was noted for its sweet, smooth quality, and her songs often dealt with themes of love and heartbreak.
  • In the years following her retirement, Dillon’s music continued to be influential in Jamaica and around the world, with her songs covered by artists such as UB40 and The Slackers.
  • In 2009 she was posthumously awarded the Order of Distinction in Jamaica, in recognition of her contributions to music.
  • Dillon’s music has been sampled in numerous songs, including Jay-Z’s “So Ghetto” and Amy Winehouse’s “He Can Only Hold Her.”
  • She is considered one of the most important female voices in Jamaican music history, and her legacy continues to inspire new generations of artists.

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