Millie Small was born in Jamaica in 1947. She started her career in music young, recording her first songs at the age of twelve. Aged seventeen, she was already touring as a performer in Jamaica and internationally. She was brought to the UK by her manager in 1963, where she went on to become a pop sensation, known for her high-pitched voice and bubbly on-stage persona. My Boy Lollipop reached number two on both the UK and US charts.

Its success marks an integral moment in the birth of ska music. The stationing of American soldiers in Jamaica during World War II meant that Jamaicans were exposed to a range of military radio programming. Combined with increased radio ownership at the time, more people were able to listen to contemporary American musicians. Rhythm and Blues from the American South was particularly popular. Jamaican musicians borrowed its elements, mixing them with calypso and other traditional styles, such as mento, to form new genres, such as ska. Ska was a precursor to reggae and, in turn, modern hip hop and R’n’B.

My Boy Lollipop was Millie Small’s only major success, but it sent ripples through western music as it exposed a worldwide audience to the sounds of Jamaica. This paved the way for the future successes of other Jamaican musicians, such as Bob Marley and The Wailers, who would go on to become some of the most notable musicians of the twentieth century.

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Black Music Collection #4

Minutes by Millie Small