Popular Jamaican singer, Millie Small, has passed on. The star who was famous in the 1960s reportedly suffered a stroke. She was 73. Announcing her death, the founder of Island Records, Chris Blackwell described her as “a sweet person.”
Small made her name in the UK in 1964 after the release of her hit single, My Boy Lollipop. The song, which remains one of the biggest selling Ska songs of all time, reached number two in both the US and UK. It sold more than seven million copies.
Ska is a music genre originating in Jamaica in the late 1950s and was the precursor to rocksteady and reggae. It combined elements of Caribbean mento and calypso with American jazz and rhythm and blues.
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“I would say she’s the person who took ska international because it was her first hit record,” Blackwell told the Jamaica Observer.
“It became a hit pretty much everywhere in the world. I went with her around the world because each of the territories wanted her to turn up and do TV shows and such, and it was just incredible how she handled it.”
“She was such a sweet person, really a sweet person. Very funny, great sense of humour. She was really special,” said Blackwell.
Known for her high-pitch vocal, Small’s journey to the big stage began when she won a talent contest at the Palladium Theatre in Clarendon, south Jamaica at age 12.
She scored major hits including We’ll Meet featuring reggae singer Roy Patton and Sweet William released in 1968.
After several unsuccessful singles, Small took a step back from the big stage and moved to Singapore and New Zealand where she lived, concentrating on writing, painting and raising her daughter, BBC reported.
In a rare interview, when My Boy Lollipop was re-released in 1987 to mark Island Records’ 25th anniversary, the singer revealed she had, at one point, been penniless and sleeping rough in London.
However, she took the hard times in good grace, explaining on Thames TV: “That’s all experience. It was great. I didn’t worry because I knew what I was doing. I saw how the other half live. It’s something I chose to do.”
She was recognized by Jamaica’s Governor-General in 2011 with a Commander in the Order of Distinction for her contribution to the Jamaican music industry.
The singer left behind a daughter, Joan, who is also a musician based in London.
Tributes are being paid after news of her death went viral:
R I P MILLIE SMALL. ‘My Boy lollipop’ 1964 lite the fuse for Jamaican SKA music, her track went Global making history & developed the foundational structures of Jamaican Reggae Music. SLEEP WITH ANGELS SISTER MILLIE X pic.twitter.com/Ydl0za0st4— Vas Blackwood (@VasBlackwood) May 6, 2020
Sad to hear about Millie Small. Her early journey was steered initially by Coxone Dodd’s label, then Chris Blackwell’s Island….. My Boy Lollipop put island Records on course to become an influential record label with an excellent musical reputation. pic.twitter.com/orKLmSqToJ— Mike Read (@MikeReadUK) May 6, 2020
Truly devastating news about the extremely sad loss of the amazing Millie Small following a stroke.— Trojan Records (@trojanrecords) May 6, 2020
While still a young girl, recently arrived in London, she introduced the music of her native Jamaica to the world at large with her global hit, ‘My Boy Lollipop’.
RIP Milly 🖤 pic.twitter.com/zjD72s9AEU
‘My Boy Lollipop’ singer Millie Small has died at the age of 73. This one hurts! Rest in peace, queen. You changed the game and inspired us all. 🇯🇲 https://t.co/H07Qzbcs0L— Nadine White (@Nadine_Writes) May 6, 2020
We have lost Millie Small, the first Jamaican artist to achieve international pop chart success in countless countries with ‘My Boy Lollipop’. The song was so popular that it made her a household name in the UK in 1964 and blazed the way for the recognition of Ska music. pic.twitter.com/1Wpwro58x3— David Rodigan (@DavidRodigan) May 6, 2020