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Top 10 Jamaican Females in Reggae Music

by Kesha Stewart | Associate Writer


  1. Marcia Llyneth Griffiths OD - The undisputed queen of reggae - if you ask me. She is one third of the backing group for the late Bob Marley called The I Three, which had as members Rita Marley and Judy Mowatt. Lady Marcia’s catalogue of no fewer than 16 albums, is way more impressive than any other female in the Jamaican music industry. Possessing a great sense of style, commanding stage presence, a humble spirit and a warm personality, makes her a complete package. Her hits include Truly, Feel Like Jumping, Dreamland, Electric Slide. She fittingly declares "I shall sing as long as I live". She has kept her word for approximately 5 decades, having begun her career in 1964.

  2. Millicent Dolly May Small CD, simply called Mille, the first ‘big thing’ out of the Caribbean. Known for her chart-topping cover of My Boy Lollipop. The song was an overwhelming success, especially when compared to her previous local popular songs such as, Don't You Know. My Boy Lollipop catapulted her into the international realms accomplishing feats such as #2 in the UK Singles Chart and the US Billboard Hot 100. Millie Small died in May 2020 in London very much out of the limelight and having earned little from a song that sold 600,000 units initially and a total of 7 million copies since being released in 1964.

  3. Mikayla “Koffee” Simpson - “I want to bring vibes and positive change. I want to impact the world”. This statement by Koffee announces what she wants to do. She became the youngest artist to head the Billboard reggae charts at just 19. Her first EP “Rapture” debuted at Number 1 on Billboard’s Reggae Album Chart and also topped the iTunes Chart. Her EP had five tracks, the most popular being Toast. She made rapid progress in that she released her debut single Burning in 2017, and by 2019 she was signed with Columbia Records winning the Grammy Award for The Best Reggae Album in that very year. We witnessed her become the youngest person and first female to be awarded in this category.

  4. Diana King was born in Jamaica and was very successful midway through the 1990s. Her hits include 1995 single Shy Guy and a memorable remake of I Say a Little Prayer. Her remake featured in the soundtrack for My Best Friend’s Wedding. Diana featured on Respect with The Notorious B.I.G. She was again featured in a movie soundtrack, this time it was Cool Runnings. Shy Guy, was #1 in Japan, #13 on Billboard Hot 100s and #2 in the UK and was part of the Bad Boys movie soundtrack. Other commercially successful hits include Love Triangle and Ain't Nobody. King's music was featured on the 1997 soundtrack to the documentary film When We Were Kings performing the title song with Brian McKnight. She has performed live with Celine Dionne and appeared on Soul Train. She collaborated with Jamaican stalwarts such as “Toots” Hibbert, Maxi Priest, Shaggy and Buju Banton on the single Rise Up.

  5. Judy Mowatt was the first woman to be nominated for a Grammy in the Reggae Album Category with her Working Wonders album in 1985. She has been doing music for over 40 years. Judith Veronica Mowatt, OD was a part of The I-Three from 1979. They were the backing vocalists for Bob Marley after Peter and Bunny left the group. As a teen, she helped to form a group called the Gaylettes. Her aspirations of becoming a registered nurse were shelved for a musical career. Mowatt’s Black Woman was the first self-produced female album in Jamaica. She converted from Rastafarian to Christianity in the 1990s this new ideology reflects in her music. She became a member of the Order of Distinction in the rank of officer in 1999, for her contribution to music. Her songs include Look at Love, Working Wonders, and my personal favourite Sing Our Own Song.

  6. Phyllis Dillion OD, was recognized for her contribution to Jamaica’s Music posthumously in 2009, having passed in 2004. She had a brief recording career but her hits such as “Don't Stay Away” and “Perfidia” gave her a special place on our local musical canvas. She sang in both reggae and rocksteady genres and earned the unofficial title of “Queen of Rocksteady”.

  7. It Must Be Love and Winnie Mandella, are among her catalogue of hits spanning over 10 albums to date. Carlene Davis has a long and fruitful association with Jamaica’s music industry in the genres of reggae and since 1996, gospel (reggae style). She began in the early 1980s and while her body of work may not be commercially successful internationally, there has still been a measure of success for Davis, she was recognized as the Best Female Vocalist at the Caribbean Music Awards. Davis survived cancer in 1996 and since then has focused on her Christian beliefs. This is reflected in her recordings such as her single, This Island Needs Jesus (2000) and her album Vessel in 1998. The single was a landmark for her in Jamaica and the Caribbean. She is deeply charitable and has shared the profits from her recent albums with institutions such as the Jamaica Cancer Society and at another time to The Samaritans Purse for their activities to assist with the spread of Ebola in Liberia. She now has a doctoral degree in Pastoral Counselling, serves as a minister, and performs at events such as Fun in the Son, a summer gospel music festival in Jamaica. She owns a recording studio, Judah Recording, and the Glory Music Productions label, which she operates with her husband Tommy Cowan. Her 2014 album Dripping Blood, reached #3 on the Billboard Reggae Albums chart.

  8. Etana “The Strong One”, officially Shauna McKenzie, does socially conscious reggae reminiscent of vintage reggae music. She quit nursing school to do music, then quit music to open an internet cafe then quit that to do music. A round trip if you ask me. Etana joined Richie Spice’s group as a backup singer, she hasn't looked back since then. She released “Wrong Address”, her first #1 and the album The Strong One released in 2008, had "I Am Not Afraid" and "Roots”, as standout songs. That same year, she was nominated for a MOBO in the 'Best Reggae' category. By 2011 she gave us "People Talk” and later her albums Free Expressions followed by “BetterTomorrow” which were recorded at the legendary Tuff Gong Studios. Points to note about Etana:

    • First female to top the Billboard Reggae Albums Chart in over 15 years with her album, I Rise in 2018
    • Reggae Forever, remained at #1 on the Billboard Reggae Albums Chart for two straight weeks
    • First female in 20 years to top the Billboard Reggae Albums Chart twice
    • The first female in over two decades to be nominated for a Grammy in the Best Reggae Album category in 2018

  9. Nadine Sutherland won the Tastee Talent Contest in 1979. She has not been a rousing international success, but she is highly respected on the music scene; she was a judge on the Digicel Rising Stars talent show. Sutherland was the first artiste signed by Bob Marley to his Tuff Gong record label where she recorded songs such as Starvation on the Land and Hands and Heart. In 1993, she began touring the US as a supporting act to Bunny Wailer. She later moved to work at Donnavan Germain's studio which was where her biggest commercial hit Action was done in a collaboration with deejay Terro Fabulous. The song was heavily featured by the Jamaica Labour Party in their 2007 election campaign. It was #43 on the Billboard Hot 100s. She completed a Masters degree in Cultural Studies with the University of the West Indies in 2015. Her dubplate recording of Action for Kamala Harris’ US Vice Presidential Campaign, got her some attention.

  10. Known as Jamaica’s Songbird, Cynthia Schoosss-Blake, sang First Time Ever I Saw Your Face and won the Merritone Amateur Talent Exposure in 1971. That launched her career as a regular on the hotel circuit. Surround Me With Love, You Look Like Love and Love Me Forever were the results of her decision to begin recording her music. She was a regular at Heineken Startime (a local oldies show) and this introduced her to a more youthful audience. Sadly, she passed away on February 25, 1999 leaving a rich and soulful catalogue.

When doing a Top 10 you try to make sure you get it right. However, not everyone will love your choices. Yes, we do have other creditable Jamaican female performers like Rita Marley, JC Lodge, Dawn Penn, Lorna Bennett, Della Manley, Mryna Hauge and some younger performers like Alaine, Tessanne Chin, Lila Ike and Sevanna.

I also recommend you read The History of Reggae Music.

Regards,
KS

References:
  • Film and Sound, National Library of Jamaica, https://nlj.gov.jm/film-and-sound/
  • 7 Female Reggae Artistes You Should KNow, Culture Trip, https://theculturetrip.com/caribbean/jamaica/articles/7-female-reggae-artists-you-should-know/

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