Howdy Bovine Ska and Rocksteady Listeners,
Per the request of our longtime listener Melody, we decided to dedicate the entirety of the March 15th, 2016 Bovine Ska and Rocksteady to our favorite women vocalists in Jamaican music history. We started that show with a long set of the male/female duets that were quite popular during the Jamaican rhythm and blues era.
- In 1956, “Let the Good Times Roll” from American duo Shirley & Lee hit the number spot on the US R&B charts. Given the fact that at that time, American music was still very much prominent on Jamaican radio and at sound systems, the male-female duo started emerging in Jamaican Rhythm & Blues, pulling female voices into the foreground more than ever before. The duos succeeded and included:
- Keith & Enid were Keith Stewart and Enid Cumberland, and they were one of the first duos to see chart success, scoring a #1 single in 1960.
- Derrick and Patsy’s “Love not to brag,” which was inspired by Eric Monty Morris, who was better off than Derrick’s family and may have had the tendency to brag about the things he had.
- Patsy Todd
- Born in West Kingston, Patsy grew up adoring Frankie Lymon, so much so that her dream was to marry him. When Patsy ended up leaving school at the age of 14, Derrick Morgan approached her to sing on a record a duet with him on a tip from Patsy’s mother, who had approached Derrick and told him that Patsy had a great voice. And that help from her mom started a successful duet that began with “Love Not To Brag, Love Not To Boast,” a hit for Duke Reid’s Dutchess label. Patsy also collaborated with Stranger Cole; then in the late 60s, she moved to America, giving up on the music industry, and worked as a hospital secretary for three decades, only to return to music in more recent years with retro shows.
- Patsy Todd
- Millie Small
- Millie Small is the first Jamaican female singer to achieve international success with her cover of Barbie Gaye’s “My Boy Lollipop,” which introduced a much wider audience to ska. But before that enormous hit, she got her start at Vere Johns Opportunity Hour, winning the contest at the young age of twelve. In her early recording career, she recorded in duos, including the track you just heard from Millie and Roy Panton, “We’ll Meet,” which was a hit in Jamaica.
- The Soulettes
- The Soulettes were Rita Marley, her cousin Constantine Walker, and Rita’s school friend Marlene Gifford. One day, Rita heard that the Wailers walked by her house, and the Soulettes approached them and sang a quick song, which Peter Tosh reacted to and consequently invited them to record at Studio One, where Bob was auditioning singers at the time and gave the trio their name.
- Doreen Schaffer
- Doreen got her start at Studio One, and was one of the original four singers for The Skatalites and the singing partner of Jackie Opel.
- Phyllis Dillon
- Born in Linstead, Phyllis began her musical career performing with the Vulcans as a young singer, and when the group played at the Glass Bucket Club in Kingston, she caught the eye of Lynn Taitt, who brought her over to Duke Reid’s Treasure Isle. In 1967, Phyllis moved to New York, but she would continue to fly back to Jamaica to record for Duke Reid.
- The Gaylettes
- The Gaylettes were originally Judy Mowatt, Merle Clemenson, and Dawn Hanchard. The earliest tracks of the original group were not successful, so Judy Mowatt returned to dancing, which was actually her original desired career path, and The Gaylettes went on hiatus. While dancing with a group in Kingston and selling products for the Colgate-Palmolive Company to survive, Judy met Beryl Lawson. While rehearsing a dance routine at the Baby Grand Club, Judy and Beryl began to sing together, and upon realizing their ability to harmonize together, Judy called over Merle Clemenson, forming a trio that would become the next incarnation of The Gaylettes.
- Marcia Griffiths
- As a teenager, like so many of Jamaica’s great voices, Marcia Griffiths’ passion for singing began as a member of the church choir. However, her singing at home would launch her career. Philip James of the Blues Busters heard Marcia’s voice next door when he went to visit his girlfriend, and he immediately brought her over to Byron Lee and insisted that she be a part of the line up for an upcoming talent show at the Carib Theater on Easter Sunday. Though skeptical, Byron Lee included her in the show, where Marcia’s cover of Carol Thomas’s “No Time to Lose” caught the attention of Ronnie Nasralla, who brought her over to JBC that same evening to perform on television.
- Ebony Sisters
- Originally a gospel group who recorded for Coxone Dodd’s Tabernacle label as the Soul Sisters, the group would also record as the Reggae Girls before becoming the Ebony Sisters. As the Ebony Sisters, they recorded for Harry Mudie and Bunny Lee. During their career, they would also join forces with I Roy and Ralph Haughton.
- Nora Dean
- One of the most creative and daring of singers, Nora Dean recorded in many forms. As a solo artist, she recorded for the big producers in Jamaica including Coxone Dodd, Duke Reid, Lee Perry, and Bunny Lee. She was also a member of The Ebony Sisters, The Soul Sisters, and The Soulettes.
- Hortense Ellis
- Hortense Ellis, like many of the great Jamaican artists, got her start on the Vere Johns Opportunity Talent Show, entering her first contest at 18 and making it to the final round four times. As the sister of Alton Ellis, Hortense did get a bit overshadowed by her brother, but she did see success with her talent, winning the silver cup as Jamaica’s Best Female Vocalist in 1964 and 1969. She toured with Byron Lee and the Dragonaires in the 60s and recorded with the major producers in Jamaica, including Duke Reid, Coxone Dodd, and Ken Lack.
- Cynthia Schloss
- The wife of Winston Blake, Cynthia got her start in 1972 when her friends from work at the Jamaica Telephone Company tricked her into auditioning for the Merritone talent series. She caught Blake’s attention, and he produced and released her record Ready and Waiting, which was a success for her and the Merritone Music label.
Other key female figures
- Sonia Pottinger
- Sonia was one of the most powerful women in the Jamaican music industry, for she was the first female record producer and label owner. She and her husband first recorded artists and sold records from their home, and after the two split up, she built a pressing plant and recording studio behind the record store.
- Janet Enright
- Janet Enright got an early start in music, performing as a guitarist for the prime minister and Louise Bennet as a teenager. She joined the Eric Deans Orchestra at the age of fourteen. Here, she befriended Don Drummond and Wilton Gaynair, and she would join them as a member of Wilton Gaynair and the All-Stars. When Janet formed her own band, she performed for American artists who visited Jamaica.
- Doris Darlington
- Coxone Dodd’s mom and the first female sound system operator
- When Coxone was traveling to buy records, Doris would setup dances and select records for the Downbeat soundsystem. She also sold Studio One records at her shop, Music Land, providing a store front in Spanishtown to sell records.
For news on the upcoming spotlights and fun discoveries tied to early Jamaican music, join the group for the Bovine Ska and Rocksteady on Facebook.
Lily and Generoso
Here is our March 15th, 2016 Bovine Ska and Rocksteady tribute to Jamaican women vocalists: