Millie Small (1948-2020)

    Millie (Millicent Small),    by David Wedgbury,    1969,    NPG x76439,    © National Portrait Gallery, London Millie (Millicent Small), by David Wedgbury, 1969, NPG x76439, © National Portrait Gallery, London

Millie, pop singer, was born Millicent Dolly May Small in Clarendon, Jamaica. Often known as ‘Little Millie Small’, she is remembered as the singer of the 1964 hit ‘My Boy Lollipop’. The daughter of a sugar plantation overseer, she started to take an interest in music at the age of nine, and at twelve won a talent contest in Kingston. A test recording was her prize.

In her teens Small was recording for Coxsone Dodd's Studio One record label, and was part of a duo called Roy and Millie (with Roy Panton). They had a hit with ‘We’ll Meet’ (Island label) which stayed at Number One in the Jamaican charts for six weeks. In 1963 Millie was brought to Britain by record producer Chris Blackwell. He later did much to promote reggae outside Jamaica. In London she recorded ‘My Boy Lollipop’. This had originally been recorded and released by Barbie Gaye in 1956. When Small’s version was released in March 1964 it was a massive hit, selling over 600,000 copies in Britain alone, and reaching Number Two in the British and American charts. ‘My Boy Lollipop’ was also the first major hit for Island Records. Small was the first artist to have a hit that was recorded in the so-called Bluebeat style (she became known as the ‘Queen of the Bluebeat’) that had recently emerged from Jamaica and which, as with Ska, was the direct ancestor of reggae. In Britain her rise to fame was meteoric. With her bubbly personality she became something of a national treasure.

In 1964 she made her film debut singing ‘My Boy Lollipop’ in a pop musical called Swinging UK but it was television that really put her on the map. In less than a year she made many television appearances, mostly as a guest on pop music shows such as Juke Box Jury, Thank Your Lucky Stars, Ready Steady Go and Top of the Pops. Also in 1964 she was seen in Around the Beatles with the Beatles and Cilla Black, as well as a documentary called Millie in Jamaica. There was an appearance in a BBC special called Carnival with Winifred Atwell that promoted the music of the Caribbean. And at the end of the year, on Boxing Day 1964, Millie made her acting debut when she co-starred with Elisabeth Welch in an original musical, specially written for television, called The Rise and Fall of Nellie Brown. Light-hearted, captivating and with some catchy songs, Nellie Brown was a Christmas treat. Small gave a delightful performance as Selina, a young Jamaican girl who journeys from her loveless home in Liverpool to London to search for her famous ‘cousin’, Lillabelle Astor, played by Elisabeth Welch. Although she had a couple of minor hits after ‘My Boy Lollipop’, Millie never managed to consolidate her first success in the charts. However, in Britain, she remained in the public conscience for a long time. In 1970 Small appeared in Horace Ove’s concert film Reggae, shot at Wembley’s Caribbean Music Festival, and in 1987 ‘My Boy Lollipop’ re-entered the British charts, reaching Number Forty-six.


David Wedgbury is best known as the head photographer for Decca records, based in Black Prince road in Lambeth, supervising a staff of twelve and working throughout the 1960s . His 1993 book 'As years Go By' documents his career from the early 1960s Liverpool scene to his iconic Marianne Faithfull, The Rolling Stones and particularly The Who and The Small Faces. Many of his portraits appeared uncredited on their record sleeves.