Millicent 'Dolly May' Small's story begins in the Milk River area in the district of Clarendon, a parish located in the south of Jamaica, where on October 8th 1946 she was born into a family of seven brothers and five sisters. Raised in a thatched shack in the plantation grounds where her father worked as a sugar plantation overseer, the family enjoyed few home comforts, yet managed to overcome any hardships and struggle through, with music a welcome and ultimately rewarding distraction.
By the age of twelve, Millie's enchanting rendition of songs for friends and relatives had prompted her entry into local talent contests, a move that ultimately resulted in the young girl taking first place in the final of the Vere John's Opportunity talent contest at the Palladium Theatre in Montego Bay. It was also around this time she moved to an aunt's in downtown Kingston, the relocation enabling the aspiring young performer access to the growing number of local record producers establishing their credentials as architects of the island's recording industry. Leading the pack was a hungry young sound system operator-turned-music maker, Clement 'Coxson' Dodd, who upon hearing Millie perform was struck by the similarity of her voice to that of Shirley Mae Goodman, half of famed R&B duo Shirley & Lee, whose music remained popular on the Jamaican scene despite their demise Stateside.
Dodd suggested the teenage hopeful pair up with Owen Gray, who subsequently tutored her on vocal technique, harmony and timing, before uniting with her on disc for a handful of sides that included 'Sit And Cry', Do You Know' and 'Sugar Plum', the latter being a significant hit as the summer drew to a close. But Gray still harboured ambitions as a solo performer and the union proved short-lived, with Millie teaming up with another aspiring local singer, Samuel Augustus 'Roy' Panton soon after. By early 1962, the pair were regularly performing as a duo. Before long they also attended a recording session for rookie producer, Roy Robinson, with the resultant 'We'll Meet' promptly becoming a major hit on the island for his E&R imprint.
The success of the duo's debut disc spurred Dodd to take a more active roll in her career development and over the ensuing months he arranged for the pair to cut further works, with 'Dearest Love', 'Honeysuckle Rose', 'This World', 'Never Say Goodbye', 'There'll Come A Day', 'You Don't Want Me', 'Cherry I Love You' and 'You're The Only One' among their most popular works from this period. Yet while Roy & Millie were fast becoming one of the island's leading acts, financial recompense from their recorded work remained meagre and early in '63, the pair switched producers, commencing a brief spell for Lindon Pottinger's Gay Disc Records, a association that spawned further popular sides in 'Oh Merna, 'Oh Shirley' and 'Marie', the latter becoming one of the biggest-selling Jamaican singles that summer.
Following their fleeting sojourn with Pottinger, the duo commenced work with Prince Buster, their initial session resulting in the worthy single, 'I'll Go' b/w 'Over And Over', but as the disc climbed the national radio charts, events elsewhere were determining the young girl's long-term future. Across the Atlantic in London, Anglo-Jamaican record entrepreneur Chris Blackwell had been made aware of Millie's potential, with his West Indian music company, Island Records, issuing the bulk of her output to date, as his partner, Graeme Goodall recently recalled:
'When Chris heard 'We'll Meet'
by Roy & Millie, he called me and told me to get Millie to
London. He also spoke to Leslie Kong.... also a 24% shareholder in
Island Records... to ask for his help. Les also saw the commercial
value in Millie's voice and style, but I, typically, was not
convinced. Les [Kong] took the ball. A very difficult job was
locating Millie's father. Millie's mother was hesitant but
eventually agreed. We got all the paper work together and I
took her for a passport photo and the passport was issued. I
advanced the money for an economy class ticket, BOAC…. So that
Chris could sign contracts etc., on Millie's behalf, he got 'legal
guardianship', with permission from her mother.... again with Les
Kong's efforts. Remember, she was only 16 or 17 year's
In the meantime, Blackwell had written to Millie's parents in Clarendon with the offer a recording deal for his London-based operation, an offer they had little hesitation in accepting. So it was around the summer of '63, Millie boarded a flight bound for Britain, a country of which she knew relatively little and that in turn knew almost nothing of her. Once in the UK, Blackwell set about training her for stardom, enrolling his young ward at the Italia Conti Stage School for speech training and dancing lessons.
In the meantime, she experienced her first taste of life on the road in Britain, touring northern England and the Midlands, where she received a rapturous reception at the Rhythm & Blues Jamboree at Birmingham Town Hall. Six weeks later she attended her first session, cutting three overtly Pop-friendly numbers at Olympic Studios in Carlton Street, central London, which sounded a million miles from the raw R&B material cut prior to her move east. By this time Blackwell had become involved with a record production company that had ambitions to become a major force in the Pop market. Once more, Graeme Goodall explained:
'[Chris] was involved with Harry Robinson and a guy called Chris Peers, who at one time was the director of Island… they had a small production company called B.P.R. [Blackwell - Peers - Robinson], which was a side issue and didn't really go through Island Records…'
Prior to the arrival of the entrepreneur's young ward, B.P.R. had tasted a large degree of success with 'You Don't Have To Be A Baby To Cry' by London-based female duo, the Caravelles, whose saccharine-flavoured Pop ballad had made it to number #6 in the UK and an even more impressive #3 Stateside. Millie possessed all the perfect attributes for B.P.R. - youthful, bubbly, innocent and easy on the eye, Blackwell was convinced she could succeed where his previous Jamaican signing, Wilfred Jackie Edwards, had failed, and crack the Pop market. Breaking a young unknown Jamaican singer nationally, however, required a degree of mainstream exposure only a major record label possessed and so it was that the teenager was brought to the attention Jack Baverstock, A&R Director for Fontana Records. Baverstock wasted little time securing rights to B.P.R.'s next potential hit-maker and in December '63, his company released the first of Millie's UK-produced singles, the self-composed 'Don't You Know', coupled with a Harry Robinson original entitled 'Until You're Mine', with a third track from the Olympic sessions, 'Oh Davy', which remained unissued.
Unfortunately for Fontana, the single quick sank without a trace, but despite this inauspicious start, Blackwell remained convinced of the singer's potential and arranged another session, enlisting respected Jamaican Jazz guitarist to oversee proceedings. Also present at the second Olympic session were the Five Dimensions, a London-based combo making their name on the capital's thriving R&B scene as the backing band for singer-harmonica player Jimmy Powell. The session produced a number of Ska-flavoured sides, including an irresistible version of 'My Boy Lollypop', a song first recorded in 1958 by a relatively unknown US Rock & Roller, Barbie Gaye. Gaye's original had all the right ingredients for a major Pop hit, yet still failed to make the national chart and would have slipped into obscurity had it not caught Blackwell's attention while sorting through some old master tapes. While Millie's rendition was not too dissimilar in style, it possessed a charm lacking in the original, some of the reasons of which Blackwell later noted:
'On that record, the reverb came from a sort of cupboard in the back of the studio that we used as a live chamber. It was a mono record, and we fed the sound in, adding a bit more of the reverb on Millie's voice. The record worked well for radio, but partly because it was a minute and 51 seconds. That was important for people at radio who were putting play-lists together. Also, Millie's voice was irresistible-for a certain length of time, anyway. So a short record worked well for her.'
Another factor in the recording's undoubted appeal was the catchy harmonica break, provided by local player, Pete Hogman, whose solo had been laid down on tape after Jimmy Powell's effort had been rejected - and listening to the latter's effort it is perhaps not surprising.
Coupled with a Tony Washington original entitled 'Something's Gotta Be Done', 'My Boy Lollipop' saw issue in February and quickly picked up radio airplay on national, regional and pirate stations, its joyous mixture of Ska and Pop proving an irresistible combination for the British public at large. On March 12th, the record entered the UK Pop charts and with sales showing no sign of abating, Millie made her London stage debut soon after, performing the song in 'Surprise Beat '64', a variety show held at the Vaudeville Theatre in London's west end.
Less than a week later she appeared on the ABC Weekend Television popular music show, 'Thank Your Lucky Stars', an event later recalled by Blackwell's Island partner, Graeme Goodall:
'Her first appearance on TV was on ITV [Independent Television]... it was to compete against [the B.B.C.'s] 'Top Of The Pops'. Chris got a female choreographer to help Millie with a dance routine.... it was a total disaster. I think that this woman had been watching too many Astaire-Rodgers movies. So we just threw Millie in at the deep end. She just did her thing in her unique, inimitable way and blew them all away.'
A series of high-profile media appearances followed and by the beginning of May 1964, 'My Boy Lollipop' had sold 300,000 copies, with the record propelled to the second spot in the national listings. At the end of the month 'My Boy Lollipop' entered the US Billboard Singles charts, swiftly climbing to the second spot, spending a total of twelve weeks on the national Pop listings.
The single's phenomenal success was repeated around the globe, with Millie widely acclaimed as the Caribbean's first international recording star and every major record company frantically searching in vain for another performer of similar appeal. None the less, their efforts did succeeded in introducing a multitude of Jamaican acts to listeners the world over, with the likes of the Maytals, Prince Buster and Laurel Aitken just a few of those given unprecedented mainstream exposure.
On June 15th, the long awaited follow-up was released by Fontana. The single paired the eminently catchy 'Sweet William' with 'Oh Henry', a song written by Millie and fellow Jamaican ex-pat, Wilfred Jackie Edwards in honour of her newly acquired puppy dog. Having taken orders of 100,000 copies before its official release, much was expected of the latest offering from Jamaica's much-heralded 'Queen Of Blue Beat' and the PR machine duly went into overdrive. As a result, the 'Lollipop Girl' rarely spent consecutive nights in the same location and yet for all her tireless work and the record's undoubted appeal, 'Sweet William' stalled at number 30 in the Pop Parade, its failure to breach the top 20 regarded as a major disappointment for all concerned.
But all was not doom and gloom, as Millie remained a figure of huge interest around the globe, as reflected in the reception she received upon flying into New York around the close of July to collect a gold disc for the million-selling 'My Boy Lollipop'. Two days later, Millie returned to Jamaica for the first time since her dramatic rise to international stardom, flying in to Montego Bay International Airport, then onto the Palisadoes Airport, in Kingston, where she was greeted by a VIP Party, headed by the Custos of Kingston, Russell Graham, and Millie's mother. Graeme Goodall's recent account of her homecoming provides an indication of her overwhelming popularity on the island:
'I think that one of the high
points, for me was when Chris did a deal - I think with Byron Lee
& Ronnie Nasralla - for Millie to appear in a concert during
Independence celebration. It was promoted by Desnoes & Geddes,
Ronnie had their advertising account and Millie was to endorse
'Wink', a very sweet, but new soda [soft drink]. The welcome at the
airport was only surpassed in numbers by that of Haile Selassie
[two years later]. It was full tilt... motorcade into Kingston,
meetings with the P.M... you name it. And Millie handled it all
magnificently. It was amazing how she had matured in such a short
Jamaican national paper, the Gleaner also reported how after being driven in an open back car throughout streets lined by hundreds of fans, she was presented with gifts by Prime Minster Alexander Bustamante and his cabinet, before receiving an equally rapturous reception from the Leader of the Opposition, Norman Manley. Later, thousands saw her perform at a series of 'Independence Anniversary Lollipop' shows at the National Stadium and Sheraton Hotel in Kingston, as well as the Capri Theatre in May Pen, Clarendon, the parish of her birth, with major US acts, Otis Redding, Patti LaBelle & the Bluebelles and Inez & Charlie Foxx all playing second fiddle to Jamaica's own 'Little Queen'.
Meanwhile, 'Sweet William' entered the Billboard top 100, but as in Britain, early optimism for another top 5 hit for the singer labelled by the American press as 'Blue Beat Girl' quickly dissipated, with sales falling off sharply and the disc managing a modest number 40 on the national chart.
Millie's hectic Jamaican trip was followed by a performance at the New York World's Fair on August 12th, the singer headlining a three-hour 'Ska Spectacular' show that also featured the likes of Byron Lee & the Dragonaires, Prince Buster, Jimmy Cliff and Eric 'Monty' Morris. Back in the UK, Fontana released the singer's first UK album, 'More Millie', a Ska-heavy collection of dozen recordings primarily from the Ernest Ranglin-arranged sessions that featured the quartet of sides from her previous two hit singles, alongside up-beat covers of Derrick Harriott's 'Sugar Dandy', the Fats Domino hit, 'I'm In Love Again' and 'Tom Hark', a song first popularised internationally as an instrumental by Elias & His Zig-Zag Jive Flutes. Also worthy of note were the upbeat 'Bluey Louey', 'He's Mine', and a fine interpretation of Chuck Willis' plaintive ballad, 'What Am I Loving For', replete with a typically graceful solo from Ernest Ranglin.
For the US market, the collection was re-titled 'My Boy Lollipop', with two of the weaker tracks, 'Do-Re-Mi' and 'Since You've Been Gone' replaced by 'Don't You Know' and 'Until You're Mine' from the singer's first Fontana single. Around this time, the best of her Coxson and E&R material with Roy Panton and Owen Gray was collected on the album, 'The Most Of Millie & The Boys', released in Jamaica on the WIRL imprint.
In addition to the three long-players, a trio of four-track EPs also saw issue in the UK, with Fontana, Blackwell's own Island enterprise and Melodisc, the other main player in the Jamaican music market in Britain, all seeking to exploit the young singer's sudden popularity. The Fontana set was a straightforward collection of the first four Millie recordings issued on the label, while 'Millie And Blue Beat', issued by Melodisc on their famed Blue Beat imprint, brought together sides cut by the singer with former partners, Owen Gray and Roy Panton, prior to her relocation to London. The Island set, 'Millie And Her Boyfriends' followed a similar formula, although the inclusion of a previously unissued version of the Ivory Joe Hunter ballad, 'Since I Met You Baby' added considerably to its appeal. The recording paired the singer with respected Jamaican balladeer Jackie Edwards, who had joined Chris Blackwell in London soon after the record boss' relocation to the UK, and had subsequently been instrumental in helping his young female compatriot settle in the bustling city following her move from Kingston. Their duet saw issue in Jamaica as a 7" single on Leslie Kong's Beverley's label and promptly becoming a big seller and breaching the national top ten that autumn, its success due in no small part to some exquisite fret work by Ernest Ranglin.
Following Millie's appearance at the World's Fair, she was back in Europe touring and recording before appearing alongside Dusty Springfield and the Searchers on Murray 'The K' Kaufman's Labor Day Brooklyn Fox show in New York. A week later she was back in London for the release of her next Fontana single, the driving rendition of Marv Johnson's 'I Love The Way You Love' b/w a worthy version of Sam Cooke's 'Bring It On Home To Me'. Arranged by respected British band-leader, Syd Dale, both sides abandoned the Ska rhythms prevalent on her previous two 7"s and marked a clear attempt at presenting the young Jamaican as being more than just another 'Blue Beat' singer. Unfortunately, the single met with an indifferent response from the public at large and despite the usual promotional work, disappeared without a trace.
Millie spent the remainder of the year hard at work, touring, recording and preparing for her first acting roles. November saw the release the disappointingly facile 'I've Fallen In Love With A Snowman', the single's redeeming grace being the aforementioned 'What Am I Living For', lifted from the 'More Millie' album. Then, as 1964 drew to a close, she made her acting debut, playing a leading role in the Anglia TV musical, 'The Rise And Fall Of Nellie Brown'. She also found time to play a leading role in the seasonal pantomime, 'Once Upon A Fairy Tale', while a cameo appearance in the UK Music film, 'Just For You' (aka 'Discotheque Holiday') helped maintain her high profile.
1965 had only just begun when the Jamaican starlet was the main focus of a 'Ready, Steady, Go!' TV special, entitled 'Millie In Jamaica', a one hour show that also included contributions from fellow Blackwell signing, Tony Washington, along with former singing partner Roy Panton, Jimmy Cliff, Count Ossie, Prince Buster, Byron Lee, Louis Bennett and leading Mento singer, Lord Jellicoe.
In addition, Fontana issued her next offering, a bubbly version of the Bobby Charles/Bill Haley song, 'See You Later Alligator' coupled with a fine Girl Group number entitled 'Chilly Kisses', written by respected US songwriter, Carl Spencer. The frantic round of shows, recordings and public appearances duly followed and in March the so-called 'Pint Sized Hurricane' embarked on her first world tour, the whirlwind schedule taking in New Zealand, Australia, Hong Kong, Singapore, Japan, the US, Brazil and Argentina before a brief period of respite in her native Jamaica and further performances in central and South America.
It was around this time that Island released 'The Vow' and 'I'll Never Believe In You', the first of her duets with Jackie Edwards to see issue since the 'Millie And Her Boyfriends' EP from the previous year. Blackwell's decision to issue the sides on his own label rather than license them to Fontana indicated a new strategy in regard marketing the young singer in the UK and for the next couple of years, she was paired with her fellow ex-pat on a series of R&B flavoured recordings aimed squarely at the West Indian market.
Aside from her accredited work, Millie also helped out on sessions for fellow Island acts, with her unmistakable vocals featuring on the Spencer Davis Group's version of the Ikettes' 'I'm Blue (The Gong Going Song)', included the group's inspiring-titled debut LP, 'Their First Album', while she also reunited with for mentor, Owen Gray, on his impressive rendering of Ike & Tina Turner's 'It's Gonna Work Out Fine', issued on Island's recently launched Aladdin imprint.
Despite the failure of her previous three Fontana singles to break into the UK listings, Millie remained an celebrity of some standing and in April, she was immortalised in a waxwork statue that was unveiled at Madam Toussard's famous London museum. In July Fontana released her next single 'My Street' c/w 'It's Too Late, the top-side being a splendid piece of sophisticated uptown soul written and produced in New York by the celebrated pairing of Larry Fallon and Jimmy Miller, with the flip a commendable rendering of the 1958 Chuck Willis R&B ballad. Fallon and Miller were also responsible for overseeing the production of a number of other sides cut by the singer at the Philips Sound Studio, New York, their work with the singer spawning interpretations of two more of their compositions, 'Tongue Tied' and 'A Mixed Up Fickle Moody Self Centred, Spoiled Kind Of Boy', along with superior versions of Justin Hinds & the Dominoes' 'Carry Go Bring Come' and another the Ikettes' cover, 'Peaches 'N' Cream'. The driving arrangements of the material proved significantly more complementary to the singer's delivery than much of the Pop songs from the preceding months, but after 'My Street' did little in terms of sales, any hopes of a new direction for the singer were ended.
Throughout this time, Millie maintained a gruelling schedule comprised of innumerable public performances and a series of recording sessions, the most immediate evidence of the latter being 'Millie Sings Fats Domino', the second of her Fontana long-players. The while concept of having Jamaica's favourite songstress interpret some of the illustrious pianist's best-known works certainly proved a hit among the country's West Indian community, but Pop fans were less convinced and the LP never looked like charting.
In the interim, the singer's eighth single for Fontana saw issue - a typically energetic version of Wynonie Harris' whimsical R&B hit, 'Bloodshot Eyes' coupled with 'Tongue Tied' from the New York Fallon and Miller sessions. The record promised much, with early sales propelling the disc into the top 50 in November, but unfortunately, the momentum could not be maintained and for all her typically energetic promotional work, it could only manage #48 in the national Pop chart.
Millie spent the next few months touring and recording, with sessions with Jackie Edwards producing a variety of old-style R&B flavoured material, including a fine version of Gene & Eunice's 'This Is My Story, which saw issue on Island around the close of February. Further public appearances ensued, after which she and Edwards embarked on a seven-month world tour, stopping off in such countries as Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Ghana and Liberia.
During her absence, Island released Millie's next 45, a soulful reworking of the Cliques' 'My Desire', coupled with a commendable version of the Otis Redding/O.V. Wright Soul hit, 'That's How Strong My Love Is', the tracks providing clear evidence of her growing maturity as a performer. The company also released 'Ska At The Jamaica Playboy Club', a various artists collection notable for the eye-catching photo of Millie clad only in a swimsuit and bunny ears that adorned the cover, and the inclusion of an excellent Ska rendering of Oscar McLollie & Jeanette Baker's 'Hey Boy, Hey Girl' that featured Millie alongside a promising young Jamaican singer-songwriter yet to make his mark on the world stage: Jimmy Cliff. The pairing proved brief, however, with Jackie Edwards remaining her regular singing partner, the strength of their relationship reflected in the first of their collaborative long-players, 'Pledging My Love', a collection primarily comprised of soulful ballads that provided a fascinating contrast to her Pop friendly work for Fontana. And it was the latter that in September released her next 7" - a pleasing if unsuccessful version, 'Killer Joe', a song that a few years before had provided a major US hit for Filipino band, the Rocky Fellers. Tucked away on the flip was the aforementioned 'Carry Go Bring Come', previously included on the 'Playboy Club' LP.
The remainder of 1966 was spent touring and fulfilling various commitments and it was not until the following March that the next of Millie's Fontana singles was announced. A minor Country hit for US singer, Bobbi Staff months before, 'Chicken Feed' was a whimsical number that duly failed to make any inroads on the Pop charts. Of more interest - and potentially greater commercial appeal - was the flip, a Ska flavoured working of 'Wings Of A Dove', one of the most covered songs in recent Jamaican music history. Millie's interpretation compared favourably with versions by such noted Jamaican acts as the Blues Busters, the Wailers and Prince Buster, and with the latter, Desmond Dekker & the Aces, the Skatalites and the Ethiopians all making the UK chart that year, a clear opportunity had arisen for both Fontana or Island to capitalise further on their young charge. But with Millie already committed to a West African tour with Jackie Edwards, the chance to exploit the situation was missed.
In the summer of '67, Island issued the next in the run of Jackie & Millie singles: a superior ballad entitled 'In A Dream', which sold strongly among the country's West Indian populous, while 'Ooh Ooh' on the alternate side caught the attention many a young British Mod and more recently has become a favourite on the Northern Soul scene. By the time the Island 45 hit the stores, Chris Blackwell's associate Muff Winwood was handling Millie's welfare, although the change of manager did little to diminish her hectic schedule, and as much of much of the music industry basked in the so-called Summer of Love, the 20 year old singer was kept busy, whether it be entertaining the troops in Aden in the Middle East, attending recording sessions or modelling the latest fashions from Jamaica.
1967 also saw the release of 'The Best Of Millie Small', an Island a collection comprised of fourteen tracks released by Fontana over the preceding four years, while in November, the company issued her next single, 'You Better Forget' (b/w 'I Am In Love'), a commendable, if belated attempt to capitalise on the British public's renewed interest in Jamaican rhythms.
Feeling understandably jaded by this time, Millie was in desperate need of a break. Since her move to London four years before, she had matured from an innocent and wide-eyed teenager into a young woman with needs of her own. But her desire to take time out for a rest was put on hold as she fulfilled her final contractual obligations to Island and Fontana, and in the summer of 1968, the latter released the laudable if unsuccessful 'When I Dance With You' b/w 'Hey Mr. Love'. Meanwhile Blackwell's company released 'The Best Of Jackie & Millie Volume 2', featuring a dozen solo sides and duets that had seen issue on Island over the preceding few years. The LP proved to be her swansong for the company as her five-year deal finally came to an end.
Since Millie's arrival on British shores in the summer of 1963, both Island and Fontana had certainly got their money's worth, releasing of over 70 recordings and four LPs between them. During this time she had also made high profile public appearances on every continent, featured in numerous film and TV shows and made her stage debut as an actress. Yet for all her success and achievements, one could not feel a sense of disappointment that her potential had never quite been fulfilled.
Coinciding with her new found freedom, Millie began dating Eddie Wolfram, a London-based painter, art historian, author and set designer, who soon assumed the role as her business partner, with the pair forming their own enterprise, Millwolf Enterprises Ltd. In February 1969, she signed a one-year deal with Decca, and soon after respected in-house producers, Dick Rowe and Ivor Raymonde supervised a recording session that produced a quartet of sides of which 'Readin', Writin', Arithmetic' and 'I Want You Never To Stop' saw release back-to-back late in June. Around this time, the singer also opened 'Millie's Smile Bazaar a fashion boutique in the south coast town of Brighton, but as with the Decca deal, any early optimism for the shop was soon replaced by disappointment and any ambition to make her mark as a retail entrepreneur were shelved.
The commercial failure of the Decca record and the growing popularity of the latest sound from Jamaica convinced Wolfram a new approach was required, and after enlisting the services of leading UK Reggae act, the Pyramids (aka Symarip), he assumed the role of producer. The arrangement spawned an excellent version of Jackie Edwards' 'My Love And I' along with an original number entitled 'Tell Me All About Yourself', which were licensed Graeme Goodall's Jamaican music company, Doctor Bird Records and issued on its Pyramid subsidiary in December '69. Unfortunately, the timing could not have been worse as Doctor Bird promptly folded soon after, its sudden demise ending any hope of chart action for the single.
Disappointed, but undaunted, Wolfram and Millie turned to Trojan, the UK's biggest and most successful Reggae concern, which upon securing her signature scheduled the release of her next 45, the double-A side - a competent rendering of Nick Drake's 'Mayfair' c/w the overtly political 'Enoch Power'. By now the innocent 'girl next door' image had become a millstone around the singer's neck and in a bid to be rid of it once and for all agreed to pose for a series of risqué shots for Mayfair 'men's' magazine. While mild by today's standards, their publication in February's edition certainly had the desired effect and capitalising the publicity, Trojan issued the disc.
Given the prevailing mood of the times it was not surprising the whimsical 'Mayfair' was largely overlooked in favour of 'Enoch Power', a seemingly playful song that in fact conveyed a message of unity and defiance against the views espoused Enoch Powell's recent 'Rivers Of Blood' speech. Despite the song being widely banned, it greatly enhanced Millie's credibility, its popularity leading to an invitation to appear at the prestigious Caribbean Music Festival at Wembley Arena the following month.
April 1970 also saw the release of 'Time Will Tell', her first solo LP for five years. Something of a mixed bag, the album had some fine moments, but Wolfram's arrangements too often hindered, rather than enhanced the material, particularly with his use of a brass ensemble that frequently sounded more Salvation Army than Muscle Shoals.
Trojan also issued 'Millie & Her Boyfriends', a collection of early duets, originally released on Island prior and shortly after her move to the UK, while the 'Pledging My Love' and 'Best Of Millie Small' albums were also re-released by the company of which her former mentor, Chris Blackwell was a major shareholder. On the face of it, Trojan seemed a natural home for the singer, so it came as a surprise to many when that August, President Records announced the acquisition of her signature. Soon after, Ed Kassner's London-based independent released 'We're All In A Zoo' b/w 'Piccaninny Man', but after a disappointing response, Millie returned to Trojan, reuniting with Jimmy Cliff, who produced her next 7", 'Honey Hush' - a superior piece of Pop-Reggae that featured former partner Jackie Edwards and respected US Soul singer Doris Troy on backing vocals, with Johnny Arthey supervising the arrangements. The track could have led to further such works, but for reasons yet to be clarified, it heralded the end of her relationship with Trojan and her recording career as a whole.
Little was heard from Millie until the following spring, when along with fellow London-based Jamaican entertainers, long-time friends Jackie Edwards, Count Prince Miller and comedian Charlie Hyatt she appeared at the 'Easter Extravaganza's in May Pen and the Montego Bay Palladium, the venue where a decade earlier her victorious performance at the talent show had set her on the path to stardom. After the tour came to end, Millie headed back to London before leaving for the Far East, subsequently spending the next two years in Singapore.
In 1973, Millie finally returned to London, her arrival coinciding with the release of 'Lollipop Reggae', a 'best of' collection issued by Philips that provided a timely reminder of the singer's glorious past, although its cheap and cheerful design failed to do her or the music justice. Over the years since, she has shunned opportunities to return to the media spotlight even when the opportunities arose, such as when British Ska band, Bad Manners achieved major success with a revival her signature tune in 1982, or the reappearance on the Pop chart of her own version some five years later. Indeed, her only noteworthy public appearance since the early seventies came in November 1987 when she returned to Jamaica to receive the Medal of Appreciation from Prime Minister, Edward Seaga.
In 2006, after two decades of virtual anonymity, the Jamaica Gleaner announced Millie had finally commenced recording on a series of songs with friend and manager, Charley Cross, the piece citing her as stating she had become a better singer and wiser, 'more aware about what's going on in the world'. The article also revealed that since the seventies, Millie had been 'writing songs, creating art and tuning-in spiritually', with much of the past 22 years spent raising Joan, now a student of art and the music business. Later on, it revealed she was 'looking forward to delivering wonderful music' in the near future, but three years on and we are still awaiting that long over-due return. Rumours of a new album and a biography in 2010 continue to surface, and while hopefully such speculation is not unfounded, whatever the future has in store, her fans can at least glean some comfort from her musical legacy thus far.
Those foolish enough to dismiss Millie and her music as a poor imitation of the genuine article should familiarise themselves with the facts, for her achievements are both considerable and manifold. She was Jamaica's first international recording star and its first and most successful female performer to-date, whose recordings helped pathe the way for other, more celebrated acts to follow. Since 'My Boy Lollipop' first became a global hit over 40 years ago, the record has sold an estimated seven million copies, is ranked third in the greatest hit singles for 1964 and recently placed fifth in a national poll for the most popular Jamaican singles of all time. All things considered it is not an inconsiderable list of achievements for a plantation worker's daughter from Clarendon.