Millie Small began her career like many Jamaican singers of the era by winning the popular Vere Johns Opportunity Hour talent contest, which she won at the age of twelve. Wishing to pursue a career as a singer, she moved to live with relatives in Love Lane in Kingston, Jamaica.
Millie auditioned for Studio One record producer Coxsone Dodd, who was struck by the similarity of her voice to that of Shirley Goodman of the American duo Shirley and Lee. He paired her with singer Owen Gray, and they made several records together, including "Sugar Plum", which became a local hit
When Gray resumed his solo career, Millie began recording with another singer, Samuel Augustus "Roy" Panton. Working with producer Roy Robinson, the duo of Roy & Millie had a run of local hits in Jamaica including "We'll Meet". They had further successes working with Dodd, as well with producer Lindon Pottinger, including the local hit "Marie" in 1963; and then with Prince Buster.
Over and Over by Roy Panton and Millie Small with Prince Buster's All Stars was released on The Blue Beat Label in 1963 giving Millie her first release in the UK and outside of Jamaica and increasing her popularity outside of Jamaica.
Millie's popularity had brought her to the attention of Anglo-Jamaican entrepreneur Chris Blackwell, who was convinced of her wider international potential. During late 1963 Chris brought Millie to London. Her first recording in London, "Don't You Know was released by Fontana Records in late 1963.
For Millie's next recording Chris Blackwell recruited guitarist and arranger Ernest Ranglin to oversee the session. Ranglin and his musicians adopted the newly-popular ska and blue beat style, and his rearrangement of "My Boy Lollipop", a song originally released in the US by teenager Barbie Gaye in late 1956, became immediately successful.
Released during March 1964 again on Fontana Records, Small's version (on which she was credited simply as "Millie") was a massive hit. Millie appeared on British TV shows including Top of the Pops, and the single reached number two in the UK Singles Chart, in the US Billboard Hot 100, and in Canada. It also topped the chart in Australia. Initially it sold over 600,000 copies in the United Kingdom, Including singles sales, album usage, and compilation inclusions, the song has since sold more than seven million copies worldwide.
"My Boy Lollipop" was doubly significant in British pop history. It was the first major hit for Chris Blackwell and Island Records while introducing ska and blue beat to the masses.
Millie Small was the first artist to have a hit that was recorded in the blue beat style. She was billed as "The Blue Beat Girl" on the single's label in the USA.
The rest as they say is history.
In November 1987, Millie Received the Medal of Appreciation from Jamaican Prime Minister Edward Seaga.
On 6 August 2011, the 49th anniversary of Jamaica's independence, the Governor-General made Millie Small a Commander in the Order of Distinction for her contribution to the Jamaican music industry.
A truly wonderful successful singing career and a stellar contribution to popular culture.
All of us at The Blue Beat Label were very saddened to learn of Millie's recent passing as we prepared to celebrate 60 Years of The Blue Beat Label. Millie you will always be with us.
Rest In Peace Millie Small "The Blue Beat Girl", our thoughts and prayers are with you, family, friends, colleagues and fans at this very sad time.