Where is Millie?
That was the question I was asked most often – until the singer passed away some three years ago. It is difficult for those of a younger generation to understand the extent of the Millie-phenomenon. The young singer stood more than the world of music on its head in the summer of 1964. Her record My Boy Lollipop marked a dividing line in our social history. She was not the first entertainer to come out of the UK Jamaican / West Indian community – though she was probably the first international star to have done so.
It was all in the timing. In the years leading to Lollipop there had been disillusion and disappointment culminating in the social disturbances / riots at Notting Hill in 1958, the murder of Kelso Cochrane the following year, and the political storm that built up to the election campaign rhetoric, while the record was still in the charts, in which Conservative Peter Griffiths proclaimed who – in his opinion – white people would not want as neighbours.
After Millie, there was vibrancy, hope and optimism. The Jamaican teenager personified the spirit of what has come to be called the Season of Camelot. Significantly the tune and the lyrics had no social import. They were an expression of fun. On meeting Miss Small for the first time at the Bromley Court Hotel on the outskirts of London I tried to get the national newspapers to become interested in the potential of the singer and the record.
All replied – as if with one voice: “We are not interested. To succeed in this business you have to be white, male and a group, not black, female and a solo artiste”. Millie proved that a person could be other and still succeed. Young people, in particular, were inspired to believe that their own dreams, too, could come true. Admittedly that success was fleeting, as were the aspirations of a generation.
Even so, the euphoria had germinated a seed that, in time, would blossom. By the end of the decade Millie Small shared a bill at the Wembley Caribbean Music Festival with Bob Andy and Marcia Griffiths, the apostles of Young, Gifted and Black.
For me, it was personal.
Meeting Millie changed my own life. Up until then I had been known as Ian Goodwin, a student with a part-time interest in writing small pieces for newspapers. Encouraged by others, including press pioneer Aubrey Baynes, to use my third forename I submitted the reports of Millie which the British national press had rejected to West Indian publications including the West Indian Gazette, the Jamaica Gleaner and WINA magazine – using the name Clayton Goodwin. And that it how it was perceived by thousands of readers in a cluster of countries and communities.
There was no going back.
Mr Theo Sealy, the august Editor of the Gleaner Group of publications, invited me to become a representative of his newspapers in the United Kingdom with the license to report – on just about everything that interested me, and I was a very inquisitive young man. Initially that meant writing a lot about Millie Small and her contemporaries in that wonderful summer.
Where was Millie Small?
I knew the answer to that question – wherever the lady was physically.
Millie was always in my memory and my thanks.