Millie Small Dead At 73
The Jamaican singer Millie Small, whose 1964 single “My Boy Lollipop” was hugely important in popularizing ska, has died. Island Records founder Chris Blackwell tells Jamaica Observer that Small died yesterday in England after suffering from a stroke. Small was 73.
Small was born in the Jamaican parish of Clarendon, and she grew up on the a sugar plantation, where her father was an overseer. At age 12, she won a singing contest and decided to start a singing career, moving in with relatives in Kingston. Small released her first few Jamaican singles in 1963; “We’ll Meet,” a duet with Roy Panton, was a local hit. Small got the attention of Chris Blackwell, who was living in Jamaica and who had founded Island Records a few years earlier. Blackwell became Small’s manager and legal guardian, and he took her to London for diction and dancing lessons.
In 1964, Small recorded the single “My Boy Lollipop” in London, with local session musicians. The song, a cover of a 1956 doo-wop track, became a global hit, peaking at #2 in both the US and the UK. Ska was still a young genre in Jamaica at the time, and “My Boy Lollipop” was its first international hit. The song helped establish Island Records, and Small performed on a UK TV special built around the Beatles.
Small recorded a few more minor UK hits are retired from recording in 1970, after recording the anti-racism song “Enoch Power.” She lived in Singapore and New Zealand, and she went through a period of poverty as a mother in the ’80s. In 2011, Jamaica made Small a Commander in the Order of Distinction. Below, watch her performing “My Boy Lollipop.”