Before the arrival of pop sensation Rihanna, the most successful Caribbean female artist was a certain Millie Small. Millie’s impact on music history cannot be overstated, as it was her recording of the international hit My Boy Lollipop in 1964 that ushered in the new genre of Ska and later Reggae.
Millicent Dolly May Small was born in Clarendon, in Jamaica, on 6th October 1947. Her music journey began after she won a popular talent contest known as opportunity Hour, which was hosted by the popular radio personality and journalist Vere Johns. Wishing to pursue a career as a singer, she moved to Kingston to live with relatives where she successful auditioned for the legendary Studio One record producer Coxone Dodd. After a series of minor hits, she came to the attention of the founder of Island Records Chris Blackwell, who became her mentor and manager.
In the winter of 1963 Millie moved to London with Chris Blackwell acting as her legal guardian. Her first release for Blackwell made little impact. But on her second recording Blackwell employed the services of renowned music arranger and composer Ernest Ranglin.
It was Ranglin’s idea along with his team of musicians to record My Boy Lollipop in the style of Bluebeat. The rest, as they say, is history. The song became an international hit, gave Island Records it first ever hit, sold over 7 million copies worldwide, and catapulted Millie Small to international fame.
Millie would never record another hit as successful as My Boy Lollipop, and over time did less recording and took up painting. In later years the appreciation of her contribution to music was recognised with her receiving a number of awards. She spent the last two decades of her living in a private apartment in Shepherd’s bush before succumbing to a stroke on 5th May 2020. Her daughter Jaelee Small said: “It’s a tremendous honour for my mother to be recognised with a blue heritage plaque. Thank you to everyone who helped make this happen”.
Councillor Sharon Holder Cabinet Member for Public Realm, said: “Hammersmith and Fulham Council, in partnership with Nubian Jak Community Trust, are delighted to install a heritage plaque in recognition of Millie Small’s presence in the borough and her contribution to popular music. This is part of the council`s wider programme to diversify the public realm by visibly celebrating the borough`s Black heritage, history, and music in a proactive way.
The Nubian Jak Community Trust in partnership with London borough of Hammersmith and Fulham, unveiled a special music trail plaque, at 62 Netherwood Road, in recognition of Millie Small’s contribution to popular music. CEO of the Nubian Jak Community Trust, Dr Jak Beula, said: “Before there was Jimmy Cliff, Toots and the Maytals, Desmond Dekker or Bob Marley, there was Millie Small.
“She paved the way! She gave Island Records their first international hit, and it is honour and privilege to her with her first blue plaque.”