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Millie Small, Jamaican Singer-Songwriter Of Global Hit "My Boy Lollipop" And Ska Pioneer, Dies At 72
Millie Small, the Jamaican singer-songwriter best known for her global hit "My Boy Lollipop" and a pioneer of the ska genre, has died after suffering a stroke. She was 72.
According to a statement released by her label, Island Records, Small died "peacefully" yesterday (May 5) in London after falling ill last weekend.
In the statement, Chris Blackwell, who founded Island Records and managed the singer and also produced the hit song, said Small "opened the door for Jamaican music to the world."
"It became a hit pretty much everywhere in the world," Blackwell's statement continued. "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 really sweet person, very funny, great sense of humor. She was really special."
Born Millicent Small in Clarendon, Jamaica, in 1946, she began her singing career after winning a local talent contest and relocating to Kingston. As a teenager, she began recording and releasing music for Studio One, the island nation's iconic and much-revered recording studio and record label, and became "one of the very few female singers in the early ska era in Clarendon," according to her bio on AllMusic.
Her early singles, including "Sugar Plum" (1962), a duet with Owen Gray, and the local hit "We'll Meet," with Roy Panton as Roy & Millie, caught the attention of Blackwell, who relocated her to London, England, in 1963.
There, she recorded "My Boy Lollipop," which was originally written by Bobby Spencer of the rock 'n' roll and doo-wop group The Cadillacs and first recorded by Barbie Gaye in 1956. Small's version, released in 1964, would go on to become her breakthrough hit, ultimately peaking at No. 2 in both the U.S. and the U.K. Considered to be the first true international ska hit, selling more than 7 million copies, Small's rendition of "My Boy Lollipop" remains one of the biggest-selling reggae or ska hits of all time, according to AllMusic.
She released her debut album, My Boy Lollipop, in 1964. On the album cover, she was billed as "The Blue Beat Girl," named after a style of early Jamaican pop.
Small would again achieve moderate success in the mid-'60s: "Sweet William" (1964), a track off her debut album, became a top 40 hit in both the U.S. and U.K., while "Bloodshot Eyes" (1965) peaked at No. 48 in the U.K.
She released Sings Fats Domino, an album of Fats Domino covers, in 1965, followed by her second album, Time Will Tell, in 1970.
In 2011, as her motherland celebrated its 49th anniversary of independence, the then-Governor-General of Jamaica conferred Small with the Order Of Distinction In The Rank Of Commander "for her contribution to the Jamaican music industry," according to Jamaican daily newspaper, The Gleaner.