Images above: My Boy Lollipop; Millie Small
The Caribbean’s first international recording star and its most successful female performer
Millie Small, the Jamaican singer who shot to fame with the song My Boy Lollipop and made Ska music popular all over the world, has been recognised in the London borough where she lived with a plaque outside her house.
On Saturday (28 October), Hammersmith and Fulham Council honoured the late singer with a plaque at her home on Netherwood Road, Shepherd’s Bush, where she lived for 27 years until her death in May 2020.
Millie was only 17 when My Boy Lollipop became a smash hit in 1964, reaching number two in the UK Singles Chart and selling over 600,000 copies here. It was the first international hit by a Caribbean artist, selling over 7 million copies worldwide.
Not only did the track popularise Ska internationally, it also launched Island Records, founded by the Jamaican/British music impresario Chris Blackwell, whose headquarters was later in Chiswick.
It was in the wake of Millie’s success that ska and reggae became part of mainstream of popular music in the following years. Island records went on to sign Steel Pulse and Aswad, Burning Spear and Black Uhuru as well as Bob Marley.
Image above: Millie’s daughter Jaelee Small, with the plaque
“Happy living a quiet life with her cats”
Fans, local residents, friends and family of the late singer gathered to watch the unveiling, accompanied by local councillors. ITV News also sent a crew. I talked to several people who knew her. Millie’s neighbour described her as a “very quiet woman, reserved, but very friendly”, and would often hear her humming along to songs in the flat below.
Family member Kamal Miller told me if it were not for Millie there would be no worldwide audience for ska, rocksteady and reggae. She had toured the world and had Otis Redding as her opening act.
Cleon Roberts, daughter of record producer Sonny Roberts who started one of the key Lovers Rock labels, Orbitone, said:
“My father would be delighted to know that Millie has been honoured.”
Image above: Unveiling the plaque
Once she left the music business Millie never pushed to return to fame. Despite her status in the industry she did not receive royalties from the record and was even destitute for a while.
A friend of Millie’s daughter Jaelee gave his view that:
“A part of her was happy to move away from the spotlight. She seemed happy living a quiet life with her cats’”.
Fans at the unveiling told me: “My Boy Lollipop is one of those songs that stuck in our memories”.
Councillor Sharon Holder, who began the proceedings, said:
‘This song showed the world where music was going, trumpeting the music of ska and heralding the arrival of reggae… Millie left a legacy which can still be heard today and we want to make sure her beauty and breadth are remembered”.
Jaelee Small asked that her mother be remembered as:
“A shining star in the constellation of Black history, for the joy she brought, the hips she made sway and the hearts she made race.”
Read more stories on The Chiswick Calendar