Jamaican Music

Jamaica-Born Singer Millie Small Honored with Blue Plaque in London’s Shepherds Bush

The Jamaican-born vocalist Millie Small who is credited with making ska music popular worldwide, has been recognized with a blue plaque installed on the house in the London borough of Shepherds Bush where she lived for 27 years. Small was the first global recording star to come from the Caribbean, and with her recording of “My Boy Lollipop,” she became the region’s most successful female performer of her time. The plaque was installed at her home on Netherwood Road in Shepherd’ Bush on October 28, 2023, by the Hammersmith and Fulham Council.

Journey To Fame

She was born Millicent Dolly May Small in Clarendon, Jamaica, in 1947, and knew she wanted to be a singer from a very young age. She moved to Kingston in her teen years and successfully auditioned for the Studio One record producer, Coxsone Dodd. Her talent brought her to the attention of Chris Blackwell who became her mentor and manager, and the duo moved to London in 1923 when Small was 16 to make a career in music.

A Ska Pioneer

Millie Small became a recording star at the young age of 17 when “My Boy Lollipop” hit the top of the charts in 1964. The first international hit by an artist from the Caribbean, it sold more than seven million copies globally. It also popularized the ska genre throughout the world and launched the iconic Island Records label, which was founded by Chris Blackwell. Island Records went on to record Steel Pulse, Burning Spear, Black Uhuru, and the Bob Marley and the Wailers. During her career, Small toured the world; Otis Redding opened for her. It was following the success of Millie Small that ska and reggae music became part of the popular music mainstream. According to Karmal Miller, a family member, if it had not been for Millie Small, there would be no international audience for ska, rocksteady, or reggae.

Honoring Millie Small

According to the daughter of record producer Sonny Roberts, Cleon Roberts, her father, who started the key lovers rock label, Orbitone, would be very happy to know that Small had been honored with the plaque. A fan who attended the plaque’s unveiling on October 28 noted that “My Boy Lollipop” was “one of those songs that stuck in our memories,” while Councilor Sharon Holder, who started the proceedings, noted that the song showed the world “where music was going” and heralded the arrival of reggae. She added that Small’s legacy can be heard today and that her “beauty and breadth” will be remembered.

Life After Stardom

As time went on, Millie Small recorded less and turned her creative talents to painting. She received the Order of Distinction in the Rank of Commander from the Governor General of Jamaica in 2011 for her contribution to the music industry in Jamaica. The unveiling ceremony was attended by Millie Small’s fans, local residents of Shepherd’s Bush, and members of her family, along with local councilors and a crew from ITV. Small was described by a neighbor as being very quiet and reserved, but very friendly. She could often be heard humming along to songs from the flat below. Her daughter, Jaelee Small, said it was a “tremendous honor” for her mother to be recognized with a blue plaque, and she thanked everyone who made it happen. A friend of Jaelee Small said that Millie was happy to be out of the spotlight, living a quiet life with her cats. Small died of a stroke at the age of 72 in 2020.

Photo – Millie Small (1964)” by Harry Pot / Anefo – Nationaal Archief. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 nl via Wikimedia Commons.

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