Jamaican singer Millie Small has died at the age of 72 after suffering a stroke. Small, who was best known for her hit single "My Boy Lollipop," which reached No. 2 in both the U.S. and U.K. in 1964, "passed away peacefully in London yesterday after having been taken ill at the weekend," a representative for her music label, Island Records, confirmed, Billboard reports. The statement added that Small "was a true original, a wonderful human being and will be dearly missed by everyone."
Born to a sugar plantation overseer, Small's success in music started at a young age. At just 12, she won the Vere Johns Opportunity Hour singing contest and later moved in with relatives in Kingston to pursue a career. In 1963, she was discovered by the record label's founder, Chris Blackwell, who became her legal guardian and manager and took her to London. She was best known for her hit rendition of Barbie Gaye's "My Boy Lollipop," which became her biggest hit upon its release in 1964 and peaked at No. 2 on the Hot 100. The song is still considered to be one of the biggest-selling ska songs of all time. "My Boy Lollipop" was re-released in 1987 to mark Island Records' 25th anniversary.
"I would say she's the person who took ska international because it was her first hit record," Blackwell told the Jamaica Observer. "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 sweet person, really a sweet person. Very funny, great sense of humour. She was really special."
News of Small's death has rocked the music world, with many taking to social media to react. In the hours since the first reports of her death surfaced, Twitter has been flooded by fans and other musicians paying tribute to Smalls.
R I P MILLIE SMALL. 'My Boy lollipop' 1964 lite the fuse for Jamaican SKA music, her track went Global making history & developed the foundational structures of Jamaican Reggae Music. SLEEP WITH ANGELS SISTER MILLIE X pic.twitter.com/Ydl0za0st4— Vas Blackwood (@VasBlackwood) May 6, 2020
Small's other major successes include "Sweet William,""which peaked at No. 40 on the Sept. 5, 1964-dated chart. Meanwhile, her album My Boy Lollipop also peaked at No. 132 on the Billboard 200 on Aug. 29, 1964. Small also dipped her toes in acting, making her acting debut in 1964 in an ITV special, The Rise and Fall of Nellie Brown, according to BBC. She also appeared on 1960s pop shows like Juke Box Jury and Ready Steady Go. She is survived by her 36-year-old daughter, Jaelee.