Millie Small, the Jamaican singer-songwriter who was best known for her bubbly 1964 hit “My Boy Lollipop,” died in England this week of a stroke. Chris Blackwell, friend and Island Records founder, confirmed the death to the Jamaican Observer, noting that she was a “sweet and special person” as well as “the person who took ska international.” She was 73 years old.
Small was born in Jamaica’s Clarendon parish and began her recording career in her mid-teens. She recorded duets with Jamaican talents Owen Gray and Roy Panton, including a locally charting hit titled “We’ll Meet,” which garnered the attention of Blackwell. With her parents’ blessing, Small moved to the U.K. to be properly managed and raise her profile as an artist. Shortly after relocating, Small recorded “My Boy Lollipop,” a song originally performed by Barbie Gaye in 1956. Small’s high-pitched voice and the song’s notable bluebeat tone (a then-emerging style of Jamaican pop that would lead to the birth of ska music) attracted mass attention and airplay, helping the hit to reach No. 2 on both U.K. Singles and Billboard 100 charts. Its success would become a doubly significant moment in British Pop history, marking the first hit for Island Records and making Small the first artist to earned a charting single with the distinct bluebeat sound. “My Boy Lollipop” also managed to make waves on the Australian charts.
Small’s recording career ended in 1970. Years later, she had a two-year sojourn to Singapore before ultimately moving back to the U.K. for the remainder of her life. She is survived by her daughter, Jaelee, who is also a singer.