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(L to R) Marcia Griffiths, Patricia Chin, Sevana, and Sister Nancy

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The Women Essential To Reggae And Dancehall

In honor of Women’s History Month, GRAMMY.com highlights some of the foundational women who have shaped the sounds of reggae and dancehall as well as spotlights one artist who is taking one of the genres into the future

GRAMMYs/Mar 30, 2021 - 04:59 am

When many people think of reggae, one name immediately comes to mind: Bob Marley. The legend is just one of many prominent men—including the late Bunny Wailer and Toots Hibbert—whose voice and production work get major credit for shaping the popular Jamaican genre as well as other sounds of the Caribbean.

The reality is, women have built much of Jamaica’s musical scene. From the freedom sounds of ska to reggae’s conscious lyrics and grooving downbeat—which originated in the late '60s before catching fire worldwide the following decade—to the sexually suggestive, digitized and dubbed out world of dancehall that sprung up in the '80s, women are the largely unheralded backbone of these sounds. Singers Doreen Shaffer (The Skatalites), Patsy Todd, and Millie Small (“My Boy Lollipop”) were among the many women whose vocals appeared on ska records in the early '60s; Phyllis Dillon, Flora Adams, among others, were the voices leading rocksteady; Rita Marley, Judy Mowatt, Jennifer Lara, and Althea and Donna operated at the nexus of reggae and lovers rock, a romantic style of reggae; Lady G, Diana King and Lady Saw pioneered dancehall style. Today, women continue to lead a new generation of artists in reggae and dancehall—Koffee and Lila Iké among them.

In honor of Women’s History Month, GRAMMY.com highlights some of the foundational women who have shaped the sounds of reggae and dancehall as well as spotlights one artist who is taking one of the genres into the future.

Sonia Pottinger: The First Woman Jamaican Record Producer

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Sonia Eloise Pottinger OD forged her own path just as Jamaica's music industry was developing. Largely considered one of the greatest Jamaican record producers, Pottinger produced legends in ska, rocksteady—predecessors to reggae— and gospel from the mid ‘60s to mid ‘80s via her Gay Feet, Excel, Pep, High Note, and Glory record labels.

With her husband, Lindon Pottinger, she founded multiple labels, a shop and a recording studio which saw artists such as the Maytals, Derrick Harriott and Lord Tanamo come through its doors. Notably, she was the first woman to co-own the first music facility in Jamaica owned and operated by a Black person. 

When Pottinger and her husband separated at the beginning of the rocksteady era, she launched her own Gay Feet label to much success. Pottinger’s label hits included the Gaylads’ classic “Hard to Confess” (also on High Note) and “Swing and Dine” by The Melodians. Rocksteady was the precursor to reggae and Pottinger's early successes in this genre set her up as a leading producer. When reggae hit the town, popular singers Delroy Wilson, Judy Mowatt and Ken Boothe came into her orbit, further cementing the credibility of Pottinger and her labels.

However, Pottinger had more than an ear for good tunes. When her good friend and producer Arthur “Duke” Reid died, she acquired his Treasure Isle Records catalog and recording studio. She brought in notable acts—including Justin Hinds and The Dominoes, Bob Andy, Marcia Griffiths, Beres Hammond, and Sly and Robbie—and also licensed Treasure Isle tracks to overseas companies such as the famed Trojan Records. Her foresight, business acumen and ear were instrumental in the worldwide spread of reggae music and her influence has lasted far beyond her death in 2010.

Patricia Chin: The Woman Running The Largest Independent Dancehall And Reggae Label 

Reggae singer Tanto Metro and VP founder Patricia Chin in 2004. Photo: Bryan Bedder/Getty Images

At 83 years old, Patricia Chin, aka Miss Pat, has seen quite an evolution of the music that grew from her native Jamaica. For over 40 years, Chin has run VP Records—the legendary shop, distributor and label dedicated to dancehall and reggae. Miss Pat and her late husband Vincent “Randy” Chin founded VP in Queens, New York in 1979 after fleeing political violence in Kingston. Today, VP Records is the world’s largest independent label, distributor, and publisher of reggae and dancehall music, with more than 25,000 song titles—and has the rare designation of being woman-owned and run. (In 2015, Miss Pat became the first woman to win the American Association of Independent Music’s Lifetime Achievement award.) VP has seen generations of reggae come of age and played a crucial role in the development of the genre in New York and beyond.

While Miss Pat and Randy initially tried to push roots reggae to their New York audience, the sound of dancehall took hold because of its similarity to hip-hop. Over the years, VP has helped launch the careers of reggae and dancehall superstars such as Lady Saw, Maxi Priest, Bounty Killer, and Beenie Man. Yet Chin’s roots are even deeper. Back in Kingston, Miss Pat and Randy operated the popular record store Randy's Records, distribution company and recording studio beginning in the late ‘50s. Chin held sessions with Bob Marley, Bunny Wailer and many other prominent musicians at the intersection of ska, rocksteady and reggae. She also pioneered the compilation album in an otherwise singles-focused market.

In her memoir Miss Pat: My Reggae Music Journey, Chin details VP’s story as well as her tales of growing up Chinese and Indian in Jamaica where she dealt with discrimination in the music business and many personal woes. In Miss Pat, hip-hop founding father DJ Kool Herc makes a comparison that puts Chin’s influence into perspective: “What Berry Gordy was to Motown, Patricia Chin is to VP Records and the reggae industry.” 

Marcia Griffiths: The Empress Of Reggae

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Legendary singer Marcia Griffiths has one of the lengthiest careers in reggae, gracing stages since 1964. One of the most popular women singers, Griffiths' gorgeous vocals featured on records in ska, reggae, rocksteady, and dancehall styles. Griffiths first sang with ska group Byron Lee and the Dragonaires before recording duets with Tony Gregory, Bob Andy and Bob Marley, among others, for Studio One label owned by Coxsone Dodd. Her first No. 1 single, the rocksteady to reggae “Feel Like Jumping,” was released in 1968. Two years later she’d score an international hit by partnering with Bob Andy for a reggae cover of “Young, Gifted and Black.”

In 1974, Griffiths, Rita Marley and Judy Mowatt formed the I-Three, singing backup for Bob Marley (reggae historian Roger Steffens posits that Griffiths recorded all the back-up vocals Exodus). The I-Three released music after Bob Marley passed, and Griffiths continued to produce records as a solo act. Her 1983 single “Electric Boogie” (written by Bunny Wailer) was a massive hit and its remix inspired the dance we know today.

“Promoters and producers did as they liked–made passes at you and ripped you off at the same time,” Griffiths told The Montreal Gazette, but her golden voice and tireless ethic kept the singer going. “Griffiths' versatility and knack for choosing interesting collaborators ensured her relevancy well into the 21st century,” Steffens wrote in a biography, noting that the singer continues to record and tour internationally. To date, Marcia Griffiths has over 15 albums to her name and has worked with Shaggy, Buju Banton, Cutty Ranks, and Toots and The Maytals. In 2014, she received the Jamaican Order of Distinction for her contributions to reggae music.

Sister Nancy: The Bam Bam Dancehall Queen 

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It’s highly unlikely that you haven’t heard Sister Nancy’s 1982 dancehall crusher “Bam Bam”–either in its entirety or sampled by another artist. Yet Nancy (born Ophlin Russell) did more than just create a hit; she truly broke the mold by becoming the first woman dancehall DJ when she was still a teenager and dominating Kingston’s mostly male sound system culture.

“People discourage you. They tell you that you're not good,” Sister Nancy told The Fader. “It wasn't for them to tell me that. I just knew this is what I wanted to do and I'm not gonna stop.” Sister Nancy’s debut record, One Two, was released in 1982 and while a few of its tracks were popular in Jamaica, “Bam Bam” truly took flight. The tune was allegedly first played in New York by DJ Afrika Bambaataa and has since become the most sampled reggae song of all time–including by Kanye West and Jay-Z. Yet, because the song was credited to producer Winston Riley, Sister Nancy received no compensation for her hit.

Nancy moved to the States in 1996 and worked as an accountant. Thirty-two years after she recorded the song, Nancy heard “Bam Bam” used in a 2014 Reebok commercial and sued. She was paid for 10 years of royalties and given 50 percent rights to her original album as well as publishing credits. With money in hand, Sister Nancy quit her job and started performing all over the world.

Sevana: The Next Generation Inna Style

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Thirty-year-old Jamaican singer/songwriter Sevana melds reggae, lovers rock and R&B to create a standout sound among the current generation of reggae and dancehall artists. She is one of today’s most influential singers, broadening the interpretation of reggae and dancehall genres for a wider audience, recontextualizing the genres through personal lyrics and a unique pop sensibility. With a warm vocal range that swings from mango sweet to dancehall sex appeal, Sevana has a serious crossover appeal without losing a hint of authenticity.

Sevana first arrived on Jamaica's national stage when her girl group, SLR, won third place on the country’s version of American Idol. In 2014, she collaborated with fellow reggae singer Protoje, becoming part of his In.Digg.Nation collective. Sevana released a six-track EP in 2016, and followed with a sophomore effort, Be Somebody, in 2020. Backed by a six-piece band, Sevana’s latest is a groovy meditation on love, loss and faith. “My greatest inspiration has been my lived experiences,” she told Hypebae. “Looking back at all I’ve overcome, I still manage to be high functioning and it makes me feel unstoppable.”

Women In The Mix 2021 Recap: How Female Powerhouses Convened To Close The Wage Gap And Amplify Women's Voices Across The Music Industry

Hector "Roots" Lewis, Romain Virgo, Iotosh, Lila Iké, Samory I and Tarrus Riley in collage
(From left) Hector "Roots" Lewis, Romain Virgo, Iotosh, Lila Iké, Samory I, Tarrus Riley

Photos: Courtesy of the artist; Johnny Louis/Getty Images; Courtesy of the artist; Yannick Reid; Horace Freeman; Courtesy of the artist

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10 Artists Shaping Contemporary Reggae: Samory I, Lila Iké, Iotosh & Others

In honor of Caribbean American Heritage Month, meet 10 artists who are shaping the sound of contemporary reggae. From veterans who are hitting great strides, to promising newcomers, these acts showcase reggae's wide appeal.

GRAMMYs/Jun 13, 2024 - 03:25 pm

The result of audacious experimentation by studio musicians and producers, reggae originated  in Jamaica circa 1968 in Kingston, Jamaica. Along with its various subgenres of lovers rock, roots, dub and dancehall, reggae has influenced many music forms and found adoring audiences all over the world.

An authentic expression of the singers and musicians’ surroundings and experiences, reggae evolved from its 1960s forerunners, ska and rocksteady, shaped by contemporary influences such as American jazz and R&B, and mento, Jamaican folk music. Likewise, today’s reggae music makers draw from genres such as hip-hop (especially its trap strain) to create a generationally distinctive sound that still remains tethered to Jamaica's musical history.  

In the 2020s, the Best Reggae Album GRAMMY winners reflect the diverse musical palette that comprises contemporary reggae. EDM influences and reggaeton (a genre built upon digitized dancehall reggae riddims) remixes dominate the 2024 winner Julian Marley’s Colors of Royal. The award’s 2023 recipient — Kabaka Pyramid's The Kalling, produced by Damian and Stephen Marley — intertwines traditional roots reggae with Kabaka’s love of hip-hop. The late, great Toots Hibbert was posthumously awarded the 2021 GRAMMY for Time Tough, a hard rocking, R&B influenced gem that captured Toots’ soulful exuberance. In 2020 Koffee became the youngest and first female awardee in the category for Rapture, which features the most experimental soundscapes among this decade’s winners. Ironically, the most traditional approach to reggae is heard on American reggae band SOJA’s 2022 winner, Beauty in the Silence.

Read more: Lighters Up! 10 Essential Reggae Hip-Hop Fusions

In honor of Caribbean American Heritage Month, which was officially designated by a Presidential proclamation in June 2006, here are 10 Jamaican artists who are shaping contemporary reggae. Some are veterans who are currently hitting the greatest strides of their professional lives, others are newcomers at the threshold of extremely promising careers. All are committed to their craft and upholding reggae, even if their music ocassionally sounds unlike the reggae of a generation ago.

Kumar Bent (and the Original Fyah)

In the mid 2010s, Jamaican band Raging Fyah had a significant impact on the American reggae circuit, with their burnished, inspirational roots reggae brand as heard on such songs as "Nah Look Back" and "Judgement Day." They toured the U.S. with American reggae outfits including Stick Figure, Iration and Tribal Seeds, and supported Ali Campbell’s version of UB40 in the UK. Raging Fyah’s album Everlasting was nominated for a 2017 Best Reggae Album GRAMMY.

The following year, charismatic lead singer and principal songwriter Kumar Bent (along with guitarist Courtland "Gizmo" White, who passed away in 2023) left due to differences with their bandmates.

In 2023 Kumar teamed up with Raging Fyah alumni, drummer Anthony Watson, keyboardist Demar Gayle and backing vocalist/engineer Mahlon Moving to create The Original Fyah. In February they performed at the band’s annual Wickie Wackie festival in Jamaica and they’ve recorded an album due for upcoming release (Demar has since moved on to other projects.)

Kumar, 35, a classically trained pianist, has recorded two solo albums, including Tales of Reality with Swiss studio band 18th Parallel; they’ll tour Europe together in October. Kumar’s acoustic guitar sets have opened several dates for stalwart Jamaican band Third World this year.

Each of his musical endeavors are focused on bolstering Jamaica’s signature rhythm.

"Reggae from the 1970s and ‘80s was special because Jamaican artists made the songs exactly how they felt, and found an audience with the sounds they created," Kumar tells GRAMMY.com. "If we (Jamaicans) keep making R&B, hip-hop sounding music, we are giving away what we have for something else that we are not as good at."

Lila Iké

Lila Iké's multifarious influences run deep. "I am a Jamaican artist who is influenced by different music and you’re going to hear that coming through," she said in a June 2020 interview with The Daily Beast, following the release of her debut EP The ExPerience

While Jamaican music expanded beyond what Iké called "the purist reggae vibe," she told The Daily Beast that "it’s important to maintain the music’s indigenousness. I incorporate that into the rhythms I use and my singing style because I want young people to know, this music doesn’t start where you hear it, it has transcended many years and changes." 

Born Alecia Grey, she chose the name Lila, which means blooming flower, and Iké, a Yoruba word meaning the Power of God. Her vocals are a singular, mesmerizing blend of smoky, soulful expressions with a laid back yet poignant rendering. Lila’s effortless versatility is rooted in her upbringing in the rural community of Christiana. Her mother listened to a wide range of music, R&B, jazz, soul, country and reggae, with Lila, her mom and sisters singing along to all of it. 

Lila moved to Kingston to pursue her musical ambitions; she performed on open mic nights and posted her songs on social media. Protoje reached out to her via Twitter with an invitation to record. From that initial meeting, Protoje has managed and mentored her career. Through his label In.Digg,Nation Collective’s deal with RCA Records, Lila will release her debut album later this year; Protoje also produced the album’s first single, the reggae/R&B slow jam duet "He Loves Us Both" featuring H.E.R.

Hezron

A passionate singer whose vocals marry the grit of Otis Redding with the cool of Marvin Gaye, singer/songwriter and musician Hezron has yet to achieve the widespread impact his talents merit, although he's been planting seeds since 2010. That year, his single "So In Love" was the first of Hezron's substantial musical fruits and exceptional catalog.

On his 2022 self-produced, remarkable album Man on a Mission, Hezron explores a range of Jamaican music and history. On the rousing ska track "Plant A Seed," Hezron's guttural, gospel inflected delivery is reminiscent of Toots Hibbert as he warns his critics, "You think you bury me and done but you only planted a seed." The album also features a scorching R&B jam "Tik Tok I’m Coming"; an acoustic, mystical acknowledgement of Rastafari, "Walk In Love and Light"; and a stirring plea to "Save The Children." The album’s title track is a spirited reggae anthem offering support to anyone in pursuit of their goals while underscoring Hezron’s own purpose.

"Man on a Mission is about my personal journey, the obstacles I’ve had to overcome in the music business and beyond. I’m telling myself, telling the world, this man is on a mission to restore Jamaican music to a prominent place internationally," Hezron tells GRAMMY.com. 

In November 2023 Hezron embarked on a global mission: a two-month tour of Ghana, followed, this year, by summer shows in Canada and the U.S. before returning to Africa, with dates in Ivory Coast, Kenya, and South Africa.

Iotosh

A self-taught multi-instrumentalist, songwriter and vocalist, Iotosh (born Iotosh Poyser) made his name as a producer who can seamlessly blend disparate influences into progressive reggae soundscapes. He’s produced singles for several marquee acts who emerged from Jamaica’s reggae revival movement of the previous decade including Koffee’s "West Indies," the title track on Jah9’s Note to Self featuring Chronixx, and Jesse Royal’s "Rich Forever", featuring Vybz Kartel. He also produced five of the 10 tracks on Protoje’s GRAMMY-nominated album Third Time’s The Charm.

Iotosh’s parents (Canadian music TV journalist Michele Geister and Jamaican singer/songwriter/producer Ragnam Poyser) came from different musical worlds, so he heard a multiplicity of genres growing up, including hip-hop, rock, funk, soul, reggae and R&B. Iotosh wanted to replicate all of those sounds when he started making music, which led to his genre blurring approach. 

As an artist, his 2023 breakout single the meditative "Fill My Cup" (featuring Protoje on the remix) was followed this year by "Bad News," which explores grief that follows losing a loved one, both on one-drop reggae rhythms. He describes his debut eight-track EP, due in September, as "a mix of traditional reggae and elements of contemporary music, pop, hip-hop and R&B." 

"In my productions, I try to have some identifiable Jamaican aspects, usually the bassline, which I play live," Iotosh tells GRAMMY.com. "Reggae is based on a universal message, it’s peace and love but contextually it comes from a place of enlightening people about forces of oppression. If that message is in the music, it’s still reggae, no matter what it sounds like." 

Iotosh will make his New York City debut on July 7 at Federation Sound’s 25th Anniversary show, Coney Island Amphitheater.

Read more: Meet The First-Time GRAMMY Nominee: Kabaka Pyramid On Embracing His Voice & The Bold Future Of Reggae

Mortimer

Producer Winta James first heard Mortimer while working on sing-jay Protoje’s acclaimed 2015 album Ancient Future, and decided he was the right singer to provide the evocative hook on the opening track, "Protection." About a year after they recorded the song, Mortimer became the first artist Winta signed to his company Overstand Entertainment.

In 2019 Mortimer (born Mortimer McPherson) released his impressive EP, Fight the Fight;  single "Lightning," was especially noteworthy for its roots-meets-lovers rock sound anchored in a heavy bass and delicately embellished with a steel guitar. Mortimer’s sublime high register vocals express a refreshingly vulnerable perspective: "Girl, my love grows stronger each day, baby please don't hurt me just because you know I'll forgive." 

"The songs that get me the most are coming from a place deep within," Mortimer told me in a January 2020 interview. "I started out writing what I thought was expected of me as a Rasta, militant, social commentaries, but it was missing something. Before I am a Rastaman, I am a human being, so I dig deep, expressing my feelings simply, truthfully."

Mortimer’s debut album is due in September and his latest single, "Not A Day Goes By," addresses his struggles with depression: "I’ve given up 1000 times, I’ve even tried to take my own life," he sings in a haunting tone. Mental health struggles remain a taboo topic in reggae and popular music overall; Mortimer’s raw, confessional lyrics demonstrate his courageousness as an artist, and that bravery will hopefully inspire others going through similar struggles to speak out and get the help they need.

Hector "Roots" Lewis

Earlier this year, Hector "Roots" Lewis made his acting debut in the biopic Bob Marley: One Love, earning enthusiastic reviews for his portrayal of the late Carlton "Carly" Barrett, the longstanding, influential drummer with Bob Marley and The Wailers.  Formerly the percussionist and backing vocalist with Chronixx’s band Zinc Fence Redemption, Hector is blazing his own trail as a vocalist, songwriter and musician. 

The son of the late Jamaican lover’s rock and gospel singer Barbara Jones, Hector’s profound love for music began as a child. In 2021, Chronixx launched his Soul Circle Music label with Hector’s single "Ups and Downs," an energetic funky romp that’s a testament to music’s healing powers.  The song’s lyric "never disrespect cuz mama set a foundation" directly references Hector’s mother as the primary motivating force for his musical pursuits. 

In 2022 Hector toured the U.S. as the lead singer with California reggae band Tribal Seeds (when lead singer Steven Jacobo took a hiatus) taking his dynamic instrumental and vocal abilities to a wider audience. The same year, Hector released his five-track debut EP, D’Rootsman, which includes regal, soulful reggae ("King Said"), 1990s dancehall flavor ("Nuh Betta Than Yard") and R&B accented jams "Good Connection." 

Co-produced with Johnny Cosmic, Hector’s latest single "Possibility" boasts an irresistible bass heavy reggae groove. On his Instagram page, Hector dedicates "Possibility" to people who are facing the terrors of "warfare, colonialism, depression and oppression," urging them to "believe in the "Possibility" that they can be free from that suffering." 

Read more: 7 Things We Learned Watching 'Bob Marley: One Love' 

Hempress Sativa

The daughter of Albert "Ilawi Malawi" Johnson, musician and legendary selector with Jah Love sound system, Hempress Sativa was raised in a Rastafarian household where music played an essential role in their lives. Performing since her early teens, she developed an impressive lyrical prowess and an exceptional vocal flow, effortlessly switching between singing and deejaying. 

Consistently bringing a positive Rasta woman vibration to each track she touches, Hempress Sativa’s most recent album Chakra is a sophisticated mix of reggae rhythms, Afrobeats ("Take Me Home," featuring Kelissa), neo-soul ("The Best") and cavernous echo and reverb dub effects ("Sound the Trumpet"), a call to action for spiritual warriors. On "Top Rank Queens" Hempress Sativa trades verses with veterans Sister Nancy and Sister Carol, each celebrating their deeply held values and formidable mic skills as Rastafari female deejays. 

Hempress Sativa is featured in the documentary Bam Bam The Sister Nancy Story, (which premiered at the Tribeca Festival on June 7) recounting the legendary toaster’s influence on her own artistry. Speaking specifically about Sister Carol, Hempress tells GRAMMY.com, "She is my mentor and to see her, as a Rastafari woman from back in the 1970s, maintain her standards and principles, gives me the confidence moving forward that I, too, can find a space within this industry where I can wholeheartedly be myself."

Learn more: The Women Essential To Reggae And Dancehall

Tarrus Riley

One of the most popular reggae songs of the 2000s was Tarrus Riley’s dulcet lover’s rock tribute to women "She’s Royal." Released in 2006 and included on his acclaimed album Parables, "She’s Royal" catapulted Tarrus to reggae stardom; the song’s video has surpassed 114 million YouTube views.

Tarrus has maintained a steady output of hit singles, while his live performances with the Blak Soil Band, led by saxophonist Dean Fraser, have established a gold standard for live reggae in this generation. Tarrus’s expressive, dynamic tenor is adaptable to numerous styles, from the stunning soft rocker "Jah Will", to the thunderous percussion driven celebration of African identity, "Shaka Zulu Pickney" and the EDM power ballad "Powerful," a U.S. certified gold single produced by Major Lazer, featuring Ellie Goulding

His 2014 album Love Situation offered a gorgeous tribute to Jamaica’s rocksteady era (during which time his father, the late Jimmy Riley, started out as a singer in the harmony group the Sensations). Tarrus’s most recent album 2020’s Healing, includes meditative reggae ("Family Tree"), trap dancehall with Teejay referencing racial and political sparring on "Babylon Warfare," and the pop dancehall flavored hit "Lighter" featuring Shenseea (the song’s video has surpassed 102 million views). 

Healing’s title track ponders what the new normal will be like, "without a simple hug, so tight and warm and snug/what will this new life be like, without a simple kiss, Jah knows I'd hate to miss."

Recorded and released at the height of the pandemic, Healing is deserving much greater recognition for its luminous production (by Tarrus, Dean Fraser and Shane Brown) brilliant musicianship, nuanced songwriting and forthright expression of the myriad, conflicting emotions many underwent during the lockdowns.

Samory I

Samory I is among the most compelling Jamaican voices of this generation, whose mesmeric tone is both a guttural cry and a clarion call to collective mobilization. Born Samory Tour Frazer (after Samory Touré, who resisted French colonial rule in 19th century west Africa), Samory I released his critically acclaimed debut album, Black Gold, in 2017.  

His latest release Strength is produced by Winta James, and was the only reggae title included on Rolling Stone’s Best 100 albums of 2023. The modern roots reggae masterpiece features the affirming "Crown," on which Samory commands, "I stand my ground, I will not crumble/I keep my crown here in this jungle."  Mortimer is featured on "History of Violence," which details the generational trauma that plagues ghetto residents over a classic soul-reggae riddim. "Blood in the Streets" is a blistering roots reggae anthem, an anguished exploration of the conditions that have led to the violence: "Shame to say the system that should be protecting Is still the reason we suffer/The perpetrators blame the victims, do they even listen? Can they hear us from the gutter?" 

Despite the societal and personal suffering that’s conveyed ("My Son" bemoans the death of Samory’s firstborn), Samory I offers "Jah Love" urging the wronged and the wrongdoers to ‘Show no hate, hold no grudge, seek Jah love," It’s an inspirational conclusion to Strength, rooted in Rastafari’s deeply meshed mysticism and militancy.

Romain Virgo

There’s a scene in the video for Romain Virgo’s 2024 hit "Been there Before" where he sits alone in an  empty room cradling a gold object with three shooting stars; those familiar Romain’s career beginnings will recognize it as the trophy the then 17-year-old won in the Jamaica’s talent contest Digicel Rising Stars, in 2007. "Been There Before" is a compelling sketch of Romain’s life’s struggles, yearning for something better, as set to a throbbing bassline: "To be someone was my heart’s desire/so me never stop send up prayer," he sings in a melancholy, quavering tone.

Growing up poor in St. Ann, Jamaica, the trophy represents the contest victory that changed Romain’s life. One of the Rising Star prizes was a recording contract with Greensleeves/VP Records. On March 1, Romain released his fourth album for VP The Gentleman, one of 2024’s finest reggae releases, evidencing Romain’s increasing sophistication as a writer and nuanced vocalist.

Throughout his career Romain has vacillated between romantic lover’s rock stylings ("Stars Across The Sky"), reggae covers of pop hits (Sam Smith’s "Stay With Me") that are so good, you’ll likely forget the originals, and organic, tightly knitted collabs including the aforementioned "Been There Before" featuring Masicka, all of which has created Romain’s large, loyal fan base and a hectic international performance schedule.

Yet, Romain’s greatest success might be maintaining the wholesome, humble personality that captivated Jamaican audiences when he won Rising Stars 17 years ago. "People have seen me grow in front of their eyes," Romain tells GRAMMY.com. "I enjoy singing positive music, knowing my songs won’t negatively impact kids. Being a husband and father now comes with much more responsibility in holding on to those values, it feels like a transition from a gentle boy into a gentleman." 

Remembering Coxsone Dodd: 10 Essential Productions From The Architect Of Jamaican Music

Coxsone Dodd in his studio circa 1980 color
Coxsone Dodd circa 1980

Photo: David Corio/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

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Remembering Coxsone Dodd: 10 Essential Productions From The Architect Of Jamaican Music

Regarded as Jamaica’s Motown, Coxsone Dodd's Studio One helped launch the careers of legends such as Burning Spear, Toots and the Maytals, and the Wailers. In honor of the 20th anniversary of Dodd’s passing, learn about 10 of his greatest productions.

GRAMMYs/May 3, 2024 - 02:17 pm

On April 30, 2004, producer Clement Seymour "Sir Coxsone" Dodd — an architect in the construction of Jamaica’s recording industry — was honored at a festive street renaming ceremony on Brentford Road in Kingston, Jamaica. The bustling, commercial thoroughfare at the geographical center of Kingston was rechristened Studio One Blvd. in recognition of Coxsone’s recording studio and record label.

Dodd is said to have acquired a former nightclub at 13 Brentford Road in 1962; his father, a construction worker, helped him transform the building  into the landmark studio. In 1963 Dodd installed a one-track board and began recording and issuing records on the Studio One label. 

Dodd’s Studio One was Jamaica’s first Black-owned recording facility and is regarded as Jamaica’s Motown because of its consistent output of hit records. Studio One releases helped launch the careers of numerous ska, rocksteady and reggae legends including Bob Andy,  Dennis Brown, Burning Spear, Alton Ellis, the Gladiators, the Skatalites, Toots and the Maytals, Marcia Griffiths, Sugar Minott, Delroy Wilson and most notably, the Wailers.

At the street renaming ceremony, a jazz band played, speeches were given in tribute to Dodd’s immeasurable contributions to Jamaican music and many heartfelt memories from the studio’s heyday were shared. In the culmination of the late afternoon program, Dodd, his wife Norma, and Kingston’s then mayor Desmond McKenzie unveiled the first sign bearing the name Studio One Blvd. Four days later, on April 4, 2002, Coxsone Dodd suffered a fatal heart attack at Studio One. His productions, however, live on as benchmarks within the island’s voluminous and influential music canon.

Born Clement Seymour Dodd on Jan. 26, 1932, he was given the nickname Sir Coxsone after the star British cricketer whose batting skills Clement was said to match. As a teenager, Dodd developed a fondness for jazz and bebop that he heard beamed into Jamaica from stations in Miami and Nashville and the big band dances he attended in Kingston. Dodd launched Sir Coxsone’s Downbeat sound system around 1952 with the impressive collection of R&B and jazz discs he amassed while living in the U.S., working as a seasonal farm laborer.

Many sound system proprietors traveled to the U.S. to purchase R&B records — the preferred music among their dance patrons and key to a sound system’s following and trumping an opponent in a sound clash. With the birth of rock and roll in the mid-1950s, suitable R&B records became scarce. Jamaica’s ever-resourceful sound men ventured into Kingston studios to produce R&B shuffle recordings for sound system play. 

Recognizing there was a wider market for this music, Dodd pressed up a few hundred copies of two sound system favorites for general release, the instrumental "Shuffling Jug" by bassist Cluett Johnson and his Blues Blasters and singer/pianist Theophilus Beckford’s "Easy Snapping," both issued on Dodd’s first label, Worldisc. (Some historians recognize "Easy Snapping" as a bridge between R&B shuffle and the island’s Indigenous ska beat; others cite it as the first ska record.) When those discs sold out within a few days, other soundmen followed Dodd’s lead and Jamaica’s commercial recording industry began to flourish.

"Before then, the only stuff released commercially were mento records that were recorded here, but our sound really hit so we kept on recording. When I heard 'Easy Snapping,' I said 'Oh my gosh!'" Coxsone recalled in a 2002 interview for Air Jamaica's Skywritings at Kiingston’s Studio One. "I thank God for that moment." 

Dodd was the first producer to enlist a house band, pay them a weekly salary rather than per record. Together, they had an impressive run of hits in the ska era in the early ‘60s; during the rocksteady period later in the decade, Dodd ceded top ranking status to long standing sound system rival (but close family friend) turned producer Duke Reid. (Still, Studio One released the most enduring instrumentals or rhythm tracks, also known as riddims, of the period.)  As rocksteady morphed into reggae circa 1968, Dodd triumphed again with consistent releases of exceptional quality. 

In 1979 armed robbers targeted the Brentford Rd premises several times. Dodd left Jamaica and established Coxsone’s Music City record store/recording studio in Brooklyn, dividing his time between New York and Kingston. Reissues of Dodd’s music via Cambridge, MA based Heartbeat Records, beginning in the mid 1980s, followed by London’s Soul Jazz label in the 2000s, and most recently Yep Roc Records in Hillsborough, NC, have helped introduce Studio One’s masterful work to new generations of fans. 

"The best time I’ve ever had was when I acquired my studio at 13 Brentford Rd. because you can do as many takes until we figured that was it," Coxsone reflected in the 2002 interview. "God gave me a gift of having the musicians inside the studio to put the songs together. In the studio, I always thought about the fans, making the music more pleasing for listening or dancing. What really helped me was having the sound system, you play a record, and you weren’t guessing what you were doing, you saw what you were doing." 

To commemorate the 20th anniversary of Coxsone Dodd’s passing, read on for a list of 10 of his greatest productions.

The Maytals - "Six and Seven Books of Moses" (1963)

In 1961 at the dawn of Jamaica’s ska era, Toots Hibbert met singers Nathaniel "Jerry" Matthias and Henry "Raleigh" Gordon and they formed the Maytals. The trio released several hits for Dodd including the rousing, "Six and Seven Books of Moses," a gospel-drenched ska track that’s essentially a shout out of a few Old Testament chapters. 

Moses is credited with writing five chapters, as the lyrics state, "Genesis and Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers Deuteronomy," but "the Six and Seven books" are in question. Many Biblical scholars say Moses wasn’t the scribe, believing those chapters, including phony spells and incantations to keep evil spirits away, were penned in the 18th or 19th century. 

Nevertheless, there’s a real magic formula in The Maytals’ "Six and Seven Books of Moses": Toots’ electrifying preacher at the pulpit delivery melds with elements of vintage soul, gritty R&B, and classic country; Jerry and Raleigh provide exuberant backing vocals and seminal ska outfit and Studio One’s first house band, the Skatalities deliver an irresistible, jaunty ska rhythm with a sophisticated jazz underpinning. 

The Wailers - "Simmer Down" (1964)

A flashback scene in the biopic Bob Marley: One Love depicts the Wailers (then a teenaged outfit called the Juveniles) approaching Dodd for a recording opportunity; Dodd inexplicably points a gun at them as they recoil in terror. Yet, there isn’t any mention of such an inappropriate and unprovoked action from the producer in the various books, documentaries, interviews and other accounts of the Wailers’ audition for Dodd. 

The Wailers’ first recording session with Dodd in July 1964, however, yielded the group’s first hit single "Simmer Down." At that time, the Wailers lineup consisted of founding members Bob Marley, Bunny Livingston (later Wailer) and Peter Tosh alongside singers Junior Braithwaite and (the sole surviving member) Beverley Kelso. When Junior left for the U.S., Dodd appointed Marley as the group’s lead singer.

The energetic "Simmer Down" cautions the impetuous rude boys to refrain from their hooligan exploits. The Skatalites’ spirited horn led intro, thumping jazz infused bass and fluttering sax solo, enhances Marley’s youthful lead and the backing vocalists’ effervescence. The Wailers would spend two years at Studio One and record over 100 songs there, including the first recording of "One Love" in 1965; by early 1966, they would have five songs produced by Dodd in the Jamaica Top 10. 

Alton Ellis -"I’m Still In Love" (1967)

Jamaica’s brief rocksteady lasted about two years between 1966-1968, but was an exceptionally rich and influential musical era. The rocksteady tempo maintained the accentuated offbeat of its ska predecessor, but its slower pace allowed vocal and musical arrangements, affixed in heavier, more melodic basslines.

Alton Ellis is considered the godfather of rocksteady because he had numerous hits during the era and released "Rock Steady," the first single to utilize the term for producer Duke Reid. Ellis initially worked with Dodd in the late 1950s then returned to him in 1967. The evergreen "I’m Still in Love" was penned by Alton as a plea to his wife as their marriage dissolved: "You don’t know how to love me, or even how to kiss me/I don’t know why."  Supporting Alton’s elegant, soulful rendering of heartbreak, Studio One house band the Soul Vendors, led by keyboardist Jackie Mittoo, provide an engaging horn-drenched rhythm, epitomizing what was so special about this short-lived time in Jamaican music.

"I’m Still In Love" has been covered by various artists including Sean Paul and Sasha, whose rendition reached No. 14 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 2004. Beyoncé utilized Jamaican singer Marcia’s Aitken’s 1978 version of the tune in a TV ad announcing her 2018 On The Run II tour with Jay-Z. In February 2024, Jennifer Lopez sampled "I’m Still in Love" for her single "Can’t Get Enough."

Bob Andy - "I’ve Got to Go Back Home" (1967)

 The late Keith Anderson, known professionally as Bob Andy, arrived at Studio One in 1967. He quickly became a hit-making vocalist, and an invaluable writer for other artists on the label. He penned several hits for Marcia Griffiths including "Feel Like Jumping," "Melody Life" and "Always Together," the latter their first of many hit recordings as a duo. 

A founding member of the vocal trio the Paragons, "I’ve Got to go Back Home" was Andy’s first solo hit and it features sublime backing vocals by the Wailers (Bunny, Peter and Constantine "Vision" Walker; Bob Marley was living in the USA at the time.) Set to a sprightly rock steady beat featuring Bobby Ellis (trumpet), Roland Alphonso (saxophone) and Carlton Samuels’ (saxophone) harmonizing horns, Andy’s lyrics poignantly depict the challenges endured by Jamaica’s poor ("I can’t get no clothes to wear, can’t get no food to eat, I can’t get a job to get bread") while expressing a longing to return to Africa, a central theme within 1970s Rasta roots reggae. 

The depth of Andy’s lyrics expanded the considerations of Jamaican songwriters and one of his primary influences was Bob Dylan. "When I heard Bob Dylan, it occurred to me for the first time that you don’t have to write songs about heart and soul," Andy told Billboard in 2018. "Bob Dylan’s music introduced me to the world of social commentary and that set me on my way as a writer."  

Dawn Penn - "You Don’t Love Me" (1967)

Dawn Penn’s plaintive, almost trancelike vocals and the lilting rock steady arrangement by the Soul Vendors transformed Willie Cobbs’ early R&B hit "You Don’t Love Me," based on Bo Diddley’s 1955 gritty blues lament "She’s Fine, She’s Mine," into a Jamaican classic. The song’s shimmering guitar intro gives way to the forceful drum and bass with Mittoo’s keyboards providing an understated yet essential flourish.

In 1992 Jamaica’s Steely and Clevie remade the song, featuring Penn,  for their album Steely and Clevie Play Studio One Vintage. The dynamic musician/production duo brought their mastery (and 1990s technological innovations) to several Studio One classics with the original singers. Heartbeat released "You Don’t Love Me" as a single and it reached No. 58 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Several artists have reworked Penn’s rendition or sampled the Soul Vendors’ arrangement including rapper Eve on a collaboration with Stephen and Damian Marley. Rihanna recruited Vybz Kartel for an interpretation included on her 2005 debut album Music of the Sun, while Beyoncé performed the song on her I Am world tour in 2014 and recorded it in 2019 for her Homecoming: The Live Album. In 2013, Los Angeles-based Latin soul group the Boogaloo Assassins brought a salsa flavor to Penn's tune, creating a sought-after DJ single. 

The Heptones - "Equal Rights" (1968)

 

"Every man has an equal right to live and be free/no matter what color, class or race he may be," sings an impassioned Leroy Sibbles on "Equal Rights," the Heptones’ stirring plea for justice.

Harmony vocalist Earl Morgan formed the group with singer Barry Llewellyn in the early '60s and Sibbles joined them a few years later. The swinging bass line, played by Sibbles, anchors a stunning rock steady rhythm track awash in cascading horns, and blistering percussion patterns akin to the akete or buru drums heard at Rastafari Nyabinghi sessions.

Besides leading the Heptones’ numerous hit singles during their five-year stint at Studio One, Sibbles was a talent scout, backing vocalist, resident bassist and the primary arranger, alongside Jackie Mittoo. Sibbles’ progressive basslines are featured on numerous Studio One nuggets (many appearing on this list) and have been sampled or remade countless times over the decades on Jamaican and international hits.

In a December 2023 interview Sibbles echoed a complaint expressed by many who worked at Studio One: Dodd didn’t fairly compensate his artists and the (uncredited) musicians produced the songs while Dodd tended to business matters. "When we started out, we didn’t know about the business, and what happened, happened. But as you learn as you go along," he said. "I have registered what I could; I am living comfortably so I am grateful." 

 The Cables - "Baby Why" (1968)

Formed in 1962 by lead singer Keble Drummond and backing vocalists Vincent Stoddart and Elbert Stewart, the Cables — while not as well-known as the Wailers, the Maytals or the Heptones — recorded a few evergreen hits at Studio One, including the enchanting "Baby Why." 

Keble’s aching vocals lead this breakup tale as he warns the woman who left that she’ll soon regret it. The simple story line is delivered via a gorgeous melody that’s further embellished by Vincent and Elbert’s superb harmonizing, repeatedly cooing to hypnotic effect "why, why oh, why?" 

Coxsone is said to have kept the song for exclusive sound system play for several months; when he finally released it commercially, "Baby Why" stayed at No. 1 for four weeks. 

"Baby Why" is notable for another reason: although the Maytals’ "Do The Reggay" marks the initial use of the word reggae in a song, "Baby Why" is among a handful of songs cited as the first recorded with a reggae rhythm (reggae basslines are fuller and reggae’s tempo is a bit slower than its rocksteady forerunner.) Other contenders for that historic designation include Lee "Scratch Perry’s "People Funny Boy," the Beltones’ "No More Heartache," and Larry Marshall and Alvin Leslie’s delightful "Nanny Goat." 

Burning Spear - "Door Peeper" (1969)

Hailing from the parish of St. Ann, Jamaica, Burning Spear was referred to Studio One by another St. Ann native, Bob Marley. Spear’s first single for Studio One "Door Peeper" (also known as "Door Peep Shall Not Enter") recorded in 1969, sounded unlike any music released by Dodd and was critical in shaping the Rastafarian roots reggae movement of the next decade.

The song’s biblically laced lyrics caution informers who attempt to interfere with Rastafarians, considered societal outcasts at the time in Jamaica, while Spear’s intonation to "chant down Babylon" creates a haunting mystical effect, supported by Rupert Willington’s evocative, deep vocal pitch, a throbbing bass, mesmeric percussion and magnificent horn blasts. 

As Spear told GRAMMY.com in September 2023, "When Mr. Dodd first heard 'Door Peep' he was astonished; for a man who’d been in the music business for so long, he never heard anything like that." Dodd’s openness to recording Rasta music, and allowing ganja smoking on the premises (but not in the studio) when his competitors didn’t put him in the forefront at the threshold of the roots reggae era.

"Door Peeper" was included on Burning Spear’s debut album, Studio One Presents Burning Spear, released in 1973 and remains a popular selection in the legendary artist’s live sets.

Joseph Hill - "Behold The Land" (1972)

In the October 1946 address Behold The Land by W. E. B. DuBois at the closing session of the Southern Youth Legislature in Columbia, South Carolina, the then 78-year-old celebrated author and activist urges Black youth to fight for racial equality and the civil rights denied them in Southern states. The late Joseph Hill’s 1972 song of the same name, possibly influenced by Dubois’ words, is a powerful reggae missive exploring the atrocities of the transatlantic slave trade from which descended the discriminations DuBois described.

Hill was just 23 when he wrote/recorded "Behold The Land," his debut single as a vocalist. Hill’s haunting timbre summons the harrowing experience with the wisdom and emotional rendering of an ancestor: "For we were brought here in captivity, bound in links and chains and we worked as slaves and they lashed us hard." Hill then gives praise and asks for repatriation to the African motherland, "let us behold the land where we belong."

The Soul Defenders — a self contained entity but also a Studio One house band with whom Hill made his initial recordings as a percussionist — provide a persistent, bass heavy rhythm that suitably frames Hill’s lyrical gravitas, as do the melancholy hi-pitched harmonies.

In 1976 Hill formed the reggae trio Culture and the next year they catapulted to international fame with their apocalyptic single "Two Sevens Clash," which prompted Dodd to finally release "Behold The Land." Culture would re-record "Behold The Land" over the years including for their 1978 album Africa Stand Alone and the song received a digital remastering in 2001.

Sugar Minott - "Oh Mr. DC" (1978)

In the mid-1970s singer Lincoln "Sugar" Minott began writing lyrics to classic 1960s Studio One riddims, an approach that launched his hitmaking solo career and further popularized the practice of riddim recycling — which is still a standard approach in dancehall production. Sugar, formerly with the vocal trio The African Brothers,  penned one of his earliest solo hits "Oh, Mr. DC" to the lively beat of the Tennors’ 1967 single "Pressure and Slide" (itself a riddim originally heard, at a faster pace, underpinning Prince Buster’s 1966 "Shaking Up Orange St.")

"Oh, Mr. DC" is an authentic tale of a ganja dealer returning from the country with his bag of collie (marijuana); the DC (district constable/policeman) says he’s going to arrest him and threatens to shoot if he attempts to run away. Sugar explains to the officer that selling herb is how he supports his family: "The children crying for hunger/ I man a suffer, so you’ve got to see/it’s just collie that feed me." To underscore his urgent plea, Sugar wails in an unforgettable melody, "Oh, oh DC, don’t take my collie." 

The irresistibly bubbling bassline of the riddim nearly obscures the song’s poignant depiction of Jamaica’s harsh economic realities and the potential risk of imprisonment, or worse, that the island’s ganja sellers faced at the time. Sugar’s revival of a Studio One riddim and reutilization of 10 Studio One riddims for each track of his 1977 album Live Loving brought renewed interest to the treasures that could be extracted from Mr. Dodd’s vaults.

Special thanks to Coxsone Dodd’s niece Maxine Stowe, former A&R at Sony/Columbia and Island Records, who started her career at Coxsone’s Music City, Brooklyn.

How 'The Harder They Come' Brought Reggae To The World: A Song By Song Soundtrack Breakdown

Kendrick Lamar GRAMMY Rewind Hero
Kendrick Lamar

Photo: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic

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GRAMMY Rewind: Kendrick Lamar Honors Hip-Hop's Greats While Accepting Best Rap Album GRAMMY For 'To Pimp a Butterfly' In 2016

Upon winning the GRAMMY for Best Rap Album for 'To Pimp a Butterfly,' Kendrick Lamar thanked those that helped him get to the stage, and the artists that blazed the trail for him.

GRAMMYs/Oct 13, 2023 - 06:01 pm

Updated Friday Oct. 13, 2023 to include info about Kendrick Lamar's most recent GRAMMY wins, as of the 2023 GRAMMYs.

A GRAMMY veteran these days, Kendrick Lamar has won 17 GRAMMYs and has received 47 GRAMMY nominations overall. A sizable chunk of his trophies came from the 58th annual GRAMMY Awards in 2016, when he walked away with five — including his first-ever win in the Best Rap Album category.

This installment of GRAMMY Rewind turns back the clock to 2016, revisiting Lamar's acceptance speech upon winning Best Rap Album for To Pimp A Butterfly. Though Lamar was alone on stage, he made it clear that he wouldn't be at the top of his game without the help of a broad support system. 

"First off, all glory to God, that's for sure," he said, kicking off a speech that went on to thank his parents, who he described as his "those who gave me the responsibility of knowing, of accepting the good with the bad."

Looking for more GRAMMYs news? The 2024 GRAMMY nominations are here!

He also extended his love and gratitude to his fiancée, Whitney Alford, and shouted out his Top Dawg Entertainment labelmates. Lamar specifically praised Top Dawg's CEO, Anthony Tiffith, for finding and developing raw talent that might not otherwise get the chance to pursue their musical dreams.

"We'd never forget that: Taking these kids out of the projects, out of Compton, and putting them right here on this stage, to be the best that they can be," Lamar — a Compton native himself — continued, leading into an impassioned conclusion spotlighting some of the cornerstone rap albums that came before To Pimp a Butterfly.

"Hip-hop. Ice Cube. This is for hip-hop," he said. "This is for Snoop Dogg, Doggystyle. This is for Illmatic, this is for Nas. We will live forever. Believe that."

To Pimp a Butterfly singles "Alright" and "These Walls" earned Lamar three more GRAMMYs that night, the former winning Best Rap Performance and Best Rap Song and the latter taking Best Rap/Sung Collaboration (the song features Bilal, Anna Wise and Thundercat). He also won Best Music Video for the remix of Taylor Swift's "Bad Blood." 

Lamar has since won Best Rap Album two more times, taking home the golden gramophone in 2018 for his blockbuster LP DAMN., and in 2023 for his bold fifth album, Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers.

Watch Lamar's full acceptance speech above, and check back at GRAMMY.com every Friday for more GRAMMY Rewind episodes. 

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Marcia Griffiths studio
Marcia Griffiths

interview

Living Legends: Reggae Great Marcia Griffiths Looks Back On Her 60-Year Legacy, Working With Bob Marley & Inspiring The Next Generation

In a career-spanning interview, iconic singer Marcia Griffiths spoke with GRAMMY.com about her impressive run of solo releases and many years spent singing with Bob Marley as a member of vocal trio the I-Threes.

GRAMMYs/Jul 10, 2023 - 06:45 pm

Living Legends is a series that spotlights icons in music still going strong today. This week, GRAMMY.com spoke with reggae singer Marcia Griffiths, whose voice can be heard on seminal recordings from the '60s and '70s. Griffiths continues to perform today, and will headline Celebrate Brooklyn! In July.

Singer Marcia Griffiths believes her life has been preordained. "When I was a younger girl, I used to pray that I could be of service to mankind," she says.

It seems as if her prayers were answered: Her sweet voice caught the ear of a neighborhood singer as a young teen, and she soon launched her career at Jamaica's equivalent of Motown Records. Griffiths later met Jamaica’s biggest musical legend and sang on some of his most popular recordings. Her solo releases remain indelible works in the reggae canon, and have remained a constant on turntables the world over for nearly 60 years.

"God could not have chosen a better position for me. I can stay in one place and send my voice to the four corners of the world and touch souls," she tells GRAMMY.com. "I had no vision of this — that I would’ve lasted 60 years down the road."

Now 73, Griffiths is a reggae icon whose career highlights include numerous solo records, over 50 collaborations with singers such as Shaggy and Buju Banton, and seven years spent in the I-Threes — a trio consisting of Judy Mowatt and Rita Marley, which sang with Bob Marley until he died. 

Yet her career had auspicious beginnings. At the behest of her neighbor, Marcia entered a neighborhood talent competition. She easily won, and soon began to perform with ska group Bryon Lee and the Dragonaires. Not too long after, not one but two label heads offered her a contract — she decided to sign up with the legendary Clement "Coxsone" Dodd and his Studio One label in 1964.

Dodd "gave me the baton and I just ran with it," Griffiths recalls, adding that in the '60s, "We were so sincere in what we were doing….We just wanted to sing our hearts out."

From there, Marcia Griffiths worked with a who’s-who of Jamaican music in the 1960s and ‘70s: Marley, Bob Andy, legendary producer Sonia Pottinger, Lloyd Charmers, and many others. Griffiths' first solo hit, 1967’s "Feel Like Jumping," established her as a force in rocksteady and the burgeoning reggae scene. Her 1982 single "Electric Boogie" is credited with the birth of the electric slide dance in America; in 2005, her legacy was honored by fellow reggae icons Toots and the Maytals' on their GRAMMY-winning album, True Love. Griffiths also received a nomination for Best Reggae Album at the 63rd GRAMMYs for her work on the WailersOne World.To date, she's released 16 albums, and hints that her 17th will be completed by the end of the summer.

Griffiths continues to perform and record today, her voice sweet and nice as ever. Ahead of a performance at the Celebrate Brooklyn! festival on July 15, Marcia Griffiths spoke with GRAMMY.com about finding her power, working with Bob Marley, and the importance of creating uplifting reggae music.

The beginnings of your career in reggae are legendary. Yet to walk into Studio One at such a young age — a place with a lot of older men, and likely some very serious people — was probably very intimidating.

Oh yes. And don't forget, we're talking about a male-dominated business. That's where I met Sister Rita and the Soulettes. I met Bob Marley there, Ken Boothe, the Heptones — just about everyone. I see Studio One as Jamaica's Motown. All the greats, that's where we all graduated. That was the place to be.

It was a little uncomfortable for me as a young girl going in and seeing all these people that I've just been hearing on the radio. So it was really overwhelming. And of course, my father had to be everywhere that I was at the time.

I recorded a song, a ballad called "Wall of Love" that was never released up until this day. This song was written by a friend of mine, he lived in Hannah Town [in Kingston], where I'm from originally. I used to just do the harmonies on the song while he was playing his guitar. So when I called him to come up to Studio One, [my friend] was shocked because he had never seen a studio or been close to any studio. 

I never had any nervousness, any part of me; he was the one who got cold feet. So he ended up not even coming in the studio. I'll never forget, [organist] Jackie Mittoo said, "Little girl, you know the song? And I said, "Yes." And I sung the song and the music starts to catch a chord and I ended up recording that song all by myself.

I met Bob Andy at a rehearsal in a group called the Paragons and we became very close friends. Then he wrote songs for me like "Feel Like Jumping," "Tell Me Now," "Melody Life," "Mark My Words," "Truly." All those Studio One songs were during the decade of the '60s. And my first hit song was in 1967, "Feel Like Jumping." 

I love that song. It still feels so fresh and enthusiastic. Do you remember recording that one?

In those days when you're recording a song, it's just two tracks. So the voice and the music goes on one side. Other artists like Bunny Wailer would sing harmonies when I and Bob Andy were recording. And the Heptones — it was like a family affair.

It was like a togetherness and so much love. And innocence. So much was invested in all of these songs, and that's one of the reasons why these songs have such longevity and they can be played years down the road as golden oldies — we were so sincere in what we're doing. We were genuine. We just wanted to sing our hearts out. All the good ingredients are invested in all of these songs.

And that's one of the reasons why we're still talking today. At the time, did you have a sense that you were recording, that you were making music that was so enduring?

I came to understand more that to have a God-given talent was something very special. And when I read the Bible, I see where God calls upon singers and players of instruments. We are the ones who can take the music to the four corners of the earth. And true music comes in message to teach, to educate, and to uplift and unite the world. We cannot live without food and music.

When I met Bob Marley, I still had no vision that I would end up working with this man. He was the one who opened my eyes. When I started performing with him and recording with him,  I saw how serious this man took his music. I've never seen anything like this in my life. Right there and then, I said to myself, This is a responsibility that we have, and we have to be careful of the message that we are sending.

Because he was so sincere and dedicated to doing what he was doing that he never cared about money or anything. I realized the position that I was in was much deeper than I thought; it wasn't just entertainment and you go on stage and sing and dance. 

It certainly comes through in your music and, obviously, in Bob Marley's as well. Do you have a powerful memory about performing with him as a member of the I-Threes?

I am happy that I gave him flowers while he was alive, because I knew that this man was very, very special before anything happened. I have never seen anyone so unique and sincere. 

When we went to Zimbabwe and everyone, including us, ran for our lives, that man stood on stage and he was ready to die or to go down with his people. [Editor’s note: Bob Marley performed during the newly formed Zimbabwe’s Independence Day in 1980, and police fired teargas into the stadium.]

I realized then that he was not a person that was just preaching, he was practicing what he preached. Because he wasn't going anywhere; he was ready to go down with his people. So all of this showed me who this man was.

But what stood out in my mind more than anything else is, I was on tour, and I was maybe about seven months pregnant. We were doing "Lively Up Yourself" — and we have a lot of activity in that song, dancing up a storm — and immediately after the song was finished, I just saw dark coming towards me. Some little things twinkling before my eyes, and I knew that I was about to pass out.

So I held onto Sister Rita's dress and I was trying to beckon to her that I was going to faint. Out of nowhere I felt an arm around my shoulders, and it was Bob. And it is not that he saw something happening. He led me away from Rita and Judy slowly while he was there with the microphone, and he was doing ad libs about mothers and children all over the world. And I was instantly rejuvenated.

I didn't take it lightly. It was something very special. And the whole thing was just the works of God; I cannot merit it to anything else. So that is something that always stands out in my mind with being on that journey with the band. 

**Is it true that you recorded all of the backup vocals on Exodus?**

It was just Rita and myself that went to England; I think Judy was having one of her babies at the time. But a couple of nights Rita was not available and I went in and I did a lot of the tracks. Actually, we ended up with two albums from that trip: Kaya and Exodus.

Some nights when I'm there by myself, I would do my part, I do Sister Rita's part, do Sister Judy's part, and then I do another fourth harmony because Bob usually liked high harmonies.

So whatever it is that I'm doing, it was never like a strain or work. It was always something that I'm enjoying. And Bob was so unique that some of the ideas that he would come up with that we would sing, they were just one of a kind. Definitely on another level.

Exodus is such a seminal album as well. When you were in the studio, do you recall feeling anything special about the work that you were all doing together?

Oh yes, because at the time I think Bob had been going through a whole lot of changes. This all happened after the shooting and everything. So he was more in depth. He was hurting, and everything that was coming out of him was so real. It's always real, but this time it was with a whole lot of emotion. 

So I could feel every moment that he invested, even when we were there at night doing anything at all. I remember Tyrone [Downie]. [Aston Barrett a.k.a.] Family Man, Junior Murvin — just a few of the musicians were present in the studio because some of the tracks, Tyrone Junior, they do backup as well.

Did the mood in those sessions, everything that was going on in Bob's life, etc, affect what you brought to the sessions?

Of course, because energy is so important. I can pick up energy easily, and sometimes you have good energy and you have bad energy. So the energy that was coming, it was so solid and positive that immediately you know that you are in it 100 percent. And whatever's coming out of you is 100 percent of yourself as well.

You also had a very prolific run with Bob Andy for many years. Can you tell me about that creative partnership?

All that started when Bob Andy and myself left Studio One in 1969 and we went to Harry J [Records]. Bob Andy and myself recorded that song "Really Together," and that was a really big song up until this day. It's one of the biggest dubs on soundsystem dub specials.

I think it was Bob’s idea to re-record the Nina Simone song, "Young Gifted and Black." Anywhere I perform today, I do that song on stage and it is fresh as ever. I perform that song with my son.

The song was No. 2 on the British charts and we had to go to England to do "Top of the Pops." And that was a whole new experience for both of us.

Being in England was like I was doing another life, because everything was just so familiar, and I was truly enjoying every moment of it. So we ended up recording another song called "Pied Piper" as a follow-up to "Young, Gifted and Black." 

How did you manage to negotiate for yourself as a young woman in an industry that doesn’t treat women or artists well?

That's a downfall we experienced in Jamaica especially, not knowing the business part and not having good management. Back then, we never had any manager to do the business part. And you cannot be a singer and a manager or a business person at the same time. One is definitely going to suffer. And it's a business. We would get caught in the fine print.

It’s much different now because we learn from our bad experiences. I communicate with almost every upcoming young woman in the business. It's one of my highlights to know that I was their inspiration. I share a lot with them so they don't fall in some of the holes that we fell in along the journey. 

But things are looking brighter. And nowadays, a lot of these sisters are knowledgeable of what's happening. And I'm truly thankful for that. 

It's wonderful that you are sharing your experience with other women who are looking up to you. As a female solo act in the '70s, did you feel supported? Was it tough to make your way as a serious artist?

By then I was gathering so much knowledge from traveling. In the '70s, I-Three were just totally involved with Bob Marley. If I'm going on the road with Bob, we’d go for months.

But at no time did I relinquish my solo career. In the decade of the '70s, I had two albums that were released: Naturally and Stepping out of Babylon. And sometimes they would demand that Bob Andy and myself [perform in] different parts of the world, especially in England. So that decade was between Bob and Marcia, Bob Marley and I-Three, and myself as a solo artist. 

I'd love to hear a bit about those solo records that you put out in the '70s. How did you differentiate what you were putting out as a solo artist from the work that you were doing with Bob Andy or with Bob Marley and the I-Threes?

It's much easier when I'm doing my solo thing, whether it's a recording or a performance. On  most of my recordings, I do the harmonies myself. And the engineer would love [that] because it's tighter, it's more precision. Everything is just locked in nicely.

Bob [Marley] was just so unique and so full of music that you can expect anything in a session with Bob. He was always surprising you with some ideas and unique sounds. It just amazed me. Sometimes you'd want to stop and say wow, but you don't want to make it so obvious.

With I-Three, it flows easy as well because we had a connection. I usually tell people that coming together with Judy, Rita and myself, was ordained by the Almighty God. It was never a mistake. At the time when we formed this group, I invited Judy and Rita to come and sing some back up for me at a three night performance in New Kingston. We did a little jam session on stage and the audience loved it. They said, "Why don't you girls form a group?" And we say, "Why not?"

That was the time that Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, and Bunny Wailer — who are the original Wailers —  had a major fall-out. And Bob Marley heard that we formed a group and immediately he called us in to do "Natty Dread" and it went straight to No. 1. We became his three little birds. And we started there, right up until God called him and he passed.

Is there a recording that you don't speak about too often but strikes you deeply? 

The song that I wrote for Bob Marley, "He's a Legend," that was something very special for me. I hardly talk about it. But the song speaks for itself because every single word in that song is truth and reality. 

I remember going to someone's birthday and they requested for me to do that song for him. So I said, "That song was just written for one person, and I don't know if the person that you are asking me to do the song for is even worthy." It's not just singing words; it is meaningful that it has to be suitable for whoever I'm seeing the song for.

This song is saying, "Oh, what a blessing I received, to have been so privileged to share such wonderful moments with such a man." So everything that we are singing about and I wrote is things that I experienced, I'm not just writing nice lyrics or something that will make someone feel nice.

This is the same man who opened my eyes to know that the message in the songs are the most important thing, especially in reggae music. All these songs that he has done, we see in today's world and today's life that everything is manifesting. He was way ahead of his time. So "He's a Legend" was something that I experienced and it was straight from my heart.

I like hearing that display of integrity, because people think that songs are just songs or pop songs, but it’s so much deeper than that.

When I started work with Bobby and I realized, nothing came before his music; no money, nothing. So it was something else for me to go into a studio and to sing about folly, or things that are not really truth and reality.

Bunny Wailer wrote "Electric Boogie" because of the rhythm that I gave him. Bunny's also a great songwriter, like a Stevie Wonder, who writes about life and reality, but because of the kind of rhythm and the dance beat that he heard, that was a happy, fun song. 

Bob Marley himself was a versatile songwriter. He wrote about love, he wrote about life, people, lifestyle, wars and those things that is to come, and what was there that he was experiencing at the time. 

You sung some of the most enduring reggae love songs, like "Dreamland," "Truly" is the message of spreading love very important to you as a singer?

Of course! That is my life, because without love and truth, the world crumbles. From the moment a baby is born, and they hear music, they start moving their little bodies. Music touches the soul, which no doctor in the universe can do.

So for me, spreading love and joy to the world and to every mankind — especially to the sisters. A song like "Survival" is one of my favorite songs because it is relating to the sisters who are abused by men.

And I try to embrace my sisters because we are not just here as women to look after babies. Of course, we are mothers of creation, but some men see us as the household chores. Women are flying airplanes now and they're doing so many different things. So there's no limits to us.

So I just want to spread the love. I always tell people that I know I am the mother of love. And all I have to give to the world is love. And I try to do it through my music. 

In the past two months, two people that were very ill and were passing — one of them was from Canada and wanted to meet me before he died. And they flew him down to Jamaica and I met him. And just four days ago, my eldest son called me and he said that he has a friend and his father was passing and he asked that I just send a voice message to him.

Sometimes I see some young pregnant mothers, and for some reason they believe if I rest my hands on their tummy, their babies will be blessed. I'm blessed that people see me in that light, and I will just continue to touch souls and to do whatever I can do for mankind. 

There's no limit for me. I shall sing as long as I live.

**Are you working on anything new? The last album you put out was in 2019, Timeless.**

I started an album on the Penthouse label, which is where I've been recording. I've been there since '86 and that's how I came to do all these collaborations. I have 50 collaborations.

I'm completing an album. I have maybe about three tracks left, but I'm completing it by the end of August. I'm working with Clive Hunt and of course, Buju.

There's no energy like the youth. And I think that's one of the things that keeps me relevant over the years, that I interact with the younger generation. The last four shows I did were with Romaine Virgo, Grams, and it's beautiful. So I just try to maintain on that level.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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