Millie Small, the Jamaican teen who nearly topped the charts with her bluebeat-pop confection “My Boy Lollipop” in 1964, died in London Tuesday at 73.
According to a statement released by Island Records, Small became ill over the weekend and never recovered, reportedly succumbing to a stroke.
Island Records founder Chris Blackwell, 82, who had been her legal guardian after discovering Small, said:
“Millie opened the door for Jamaican music to the world. It became a hit pretty much everywhere in the world. I went with her 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 really sweet person, very funny, great sense of humour. She was really special.”
Born on October 6, 1946, in Jamaica, Small was the daughter of the overseer of a sugar plantation — ironic, considering her foray into music was similarly sweet.
Her win at the Vere Johns Opportunity Hour talent contest at age 12 led to cutting records by 1962, including the Jamaican hit “We'll Meet,” a duet credited to Roy and Millie and featuring singer Roy Panton.
Her local success was what captured Blackwell's ear. Only the fourth song she ever recorded, “My Boy Lollipop” was an international sensation, going on to move over 7 million units.
The hits did not keep coming for Small, but she did scrape the Top 40 in the U.S. with “Sweet William,” which along with “Bloodshot Eyes” was also a minor U.K. chart hit.
While things were hot, they were red-hot, with Small appearing on the 1964 Beatles TV special Around the Beatles and at various music festivals.
By the '70s, she had stopped recording, and in the '80s was revealed to have no money. Publicity-shy, she granted her first-ever in-depth Q&A to Goldmine in 2016, in which she clearly stated she'd never received any royalties for her work, in spite of the enormous sales she had generated, and in spite of having been granted a Commander in the Order of Distinction in her homeland for her contribution to the Jamaican music industry.
Her greatest hit: