Jamaican singer Millie Small, who sang the 1964 pop hit “My Boy Lollipop,” died Tuesday in the U.K. after suffering a stroke, the Jamaica Observer reports. She was 73.
Island Records founder Chris Blackwell, who co-produced the ska-flavored track, confirmed Small’s passing to the newspaper.
“My Boy Lollipop” was the first song by a Jamaican artist to reach the U.S. and U.K. singles charts, peaking at #2 on both tallies. The track also became the Jamaican single to sell one million copies.
“I would say [Millie is] the person who took ska international because it was her first hit record,” Blackwell told the Jamaica Observer.
In late 1963, Blackwell brought Small to England to record “My Boy Lollipop” — which originally had been recorded by an R&B singer named Barbie Gaye in 1956 — after hearing one of Millie’s local hits and convincing her early producer, Clement “Sir Coxsone” Dodd, that he could help launch her career.
“It became a hit pretty much everywhere in the world,” Blackwell to the paper. “I went with [Small] around the world because each of the territories wanted her to turn up and do TV shows and such, and it was just incredible how she handled it. She was such a sweet person, really a sweet person. Very funny, great sense of humor. She was really special.”
During the height of her success, Small performed at the New York World’s Fair in August 1964, and the day was designated as Millie Small Day by the organizers.
She later scored a few other minor hits, including “Sweet William,” which reached #40 in the U.S.
In 2011, Small received Jamaica’s prestigious Order of Distinction honor for her contributions to the country’s music industry.
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