10 Things To Know About Jamaican Singer Millie Small

The late Jamaican singer Millie Small, who had an international hit with the song 'My Boy Lollipop,' pictured holding a large umbrella with children during a tour of Jamaica circa 1966. (Photo by Rolls Press/Popperfoto via Getty Images/Getty Images)
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By NAN ET Editor

News Americas, NEW YORK, NY, Fri. May 8, 2020: Tributes have been pouring in for Jamaican singer Millie Small who passed away in London on Tuesday, May 5, 2020 at the age of 72 from a stroke.  Island Records founder Chris Blackwell said the singer, best known for her 1960s hit ‘My Boy Lollipop’ “opened the door for Jamaican music to the world” and Actor Vas Blackwood said My Boy Lollipop “lit the fuse for Jamaican ska music.” Here are ten things you need to know about this history maker:

1: Small was born Millicent Dolly May Small in Clarendon, Jamaica. She was the daughter of a sugar plantation overseer.

2: Her career began by winning the Vere Johns Opportunity Hour talent contest at the age of twelve. She then moved to live with relatives in Love Lane, Kingston Jamaica and by time she was in her teens, had recorded “Sugar Plum,” a duet with Owen Gray in 1962. She later recorded with Roy Panton for Coxsone Dodd’s Studio One record label as ‘Roy and Millie.’ They had a local hit “We’ll Meet” which brought her to the attention of Chris Blackwell who became her manager and legal guardian.

3: Blackwell took Small to Forest Hill, London in 1963 where she was given intensive training in dancing and diction. There she made a fourth recording, an Ernest Ranglin rearrangement of “My Boy Lollipop.” The song was originally released by Barbie Gaye in the late 1956.

4: It was released in March 1964 and was a massive hit, reaching number two both in the UK Singles Chart and in the US Billboard Hot 100, and number three in Canada. It also topped the chart in Australia. Initially it sold over 600,000 copies in the United Kingdom. Including singles sales, album usage and compilation inclusions, the song has since sold more than seven million copies worldwide.

My Boy Lollipop” was doubly significant in British pop history. It was the first major hit for Island Records and Small was the first artist to have a hit that was recorded in the bluebeat style.

5: Small appeared on the 1964 Beatles TV special Around The Beatles and on December 28, 1964 she also appeared in Play of the Week episode “The Rise and Fall of Nellie Brown” playing the role of Selina Brown broadcast on ITV. On March 6, 1965, Small appeared on the Australian television program Bandstand. This was as part of a concert at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl in Kings Domain, Melbourne, part of the Moomba Festival. She also released “Killer Joe” in 1967.

6: The emergence of reggae in the United Kingdom in 1969 prompted a return to recording for Small, with the single “My Love and I.” Small continued to tour and perform up to the early 1970s.Her later recordings, “Sweet William” and “Bloodshot Eyes,” also charted in the UK, at numbers 30 and 48 respectively. “Sweet William” also peaked at number 40 in the US, her only other American chart single. “My Boy Lollipop” also re-charted in the UK in 1987 at no. 46.

7: In 1987, during a rare interview with Thames News, it was revealed that Small was destitute and had taken to living in a youth hostel with her toddler daughter.

8: On August 6, 2011, the 49th anniversary of Jamaica’s independence, the Governor-General created Small a Commander in the Order of Distinction, for her contribution to the Jamaican music industry. The award was accepted on her behalf by former Prime Minister Edward Seaga. In July 2012, she stated that she had been recording again and planned to perform in Jamaica for the first time in over 40 years.

9: She had been rumored to have had a brief relationship with Peter Asher of the 1960s duo Peter & Gordon. After nearly forty years away from the limelight and refusing most interview requests, Small granted U.S. journalist Tom Graves the first ever in-depth interview in the August 2016, edition of Goldmine and denied there had been anything other than a platonic relationship. Small also said in 2016 that she had not received any royalties for the single.

10: She lived in Singapore from 1971 to 1973 before returning to the United Kingdom where she lived for the remainder of her life until her death Tuesday. Her estimated net worth is put at $1 Million – $5 Million.

See Small in a live performance from 1970s.