National Portrait Gallery

Devotees

Janet Kay (b.1960)

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Janet Kay was born Janet Kay Bogle in London to Jamaican parents in 1960. She stumbled into making music by accident when she was overheard singing while accompanying a friend to a recording studio. Tony Gad of Aswad was so impressed with Kay’s voice that he introduced her to reggae impresario Alton Ellis. Kay, a secretarial college student, went on to record a cover version of Minnie Ripperton’s Loving You that became a hit in the reggae charts. Her apprenticeship continued with two more recordings before her hit, Silly Games, produced by Dennis Bovell, entered the UK Singles chart and rose to Number Two. This achievement cemented Kay’s position in the history books as the first British-born reggae artist to touch the upper reaches of the national run charts and led to her ‘coronation’ as the ‘Queen of Lovers’ Rock’. Silly Games followed in the best traditions of Lovers’ Rock – with the emphasis is not on the arrangement, but on the delicacy of the vocal line.

Kay’s reputation was confirmed with the release of her debut album, Capricorn Woman (1979 - later re-issued and renamed Silly Games), but this was not simply an album of covers, as her song-writing skills were fully exploited. Kay then went on to broaden her popularity, talents and interests. By the time Channel 4 began broadcasting in 1982, Kay had joined the Black Theatre Co-operative. The actor – led company made up most of the cast of Channel 4’s first Black sit-com, No Problem.

Kay continued to balance music with acting when she helped form the Bibi Crew – an all-female theatre company. In the early 1990s she signed a record deal with Sony Music Japan that bore several albums: Love You Always (1993), For The Love Of You (1994), In Paradise (1995), Making History (1998), Through The Years (1999), Lovin’ You…More (2003). Her popularity in the Far East has resulted in excess of a million-plus sales and sell-out performances. Her recordings are among Britain’s highest exports to Japan. In 2003 Kay was voted one of Britain’s Top Black Britons by the London Evening Standard.

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