THE WOMEN IN REGGAE

It’s pretty widely known that reggae is a male dominated medium, sure there’s well known women artists but numerically they represent a fairly small percentage of the whole genre, though I suppose that’s not unusual in music generally. Anyhow over the years there’s been a small group that I’ve enjoyed and listened to regularly since back in the ’70’s.
Probably the best known women artists are the iThrees, Bob’s back-up singers, they all had musical careers before and after the Wailers and they’ve all recorded independently. They are, Judy Mowatt, Marcia Griffith and Bob’s wife Rita.
Judy, also a successful songwriter had a hit with her 1980 album ‘Black Woman’.
Marcia who in the ’60’s teamed up with Bob Andy for a worldwide hit with ‘Young Gifted and Black’ released a steady stream through the 80’s.
Another female group who had some early success were Althea and Donna who’s 1978 single ‘Uptown Top Rankin’ was featured by John Peel and went to #1; the tune started out in 1967 as ‘I still love you’ by Alton Ellis, was then co-opted my Marcia Aitken in ’70 for ‘I’m still in love with you boy’ and it wound up as Uptown Top Rankin, you can’t keep a good tune down.
Bob discovered and encouraged a 12 year old girl who he thought had talent, Nadine Sutherland, she cut her first singles in Bob’s Tough Gong studio within her first year; I have photos of her there in her school uniform.
A singer who I liked a lot was Sophie George, she was a real ‘roots’ girl, she was from the ghetto and she sang about it.
There was a young woman in LA who I thought was a great reggae talent, her name was Barbara Paige, she had a 1981 album ‘Hear me now’ that was recorded at Tuff Gong with the best of the Jamaican talent.
Carlene Davis is another Jamaican artist, she had an early success with ‘Stealing Love on the side’ but that conflicted with her ‘christian’ values and she ultimately rejected reggae and became a gospel singer; she’s married to Tommy Cowan, a very successful producer and DJ and has since earned a PhD.
When I first met J.C.Lodge she was a beautiful young woman living with her boyfriend Errol in a small apartment in Kingston, she made her living as an artist. Joe Gibbs heard her sing and asked her to sing ‘Someone loves you honey’ a big hit for Charlie Pride in Memphis, she did and he liked it so well that he recorded her and released it and it went to number one in Jamaica and in Europe. She’s since gone on to much bigger and better things.
Hortense Ellis is the sister of Alton Ellis, she started singing professionally in the Ska era with her brother for Coxone Dodds, she’s on his ‘I still love you’ cut. She had several successes through the ‘lovers rock’ era in the 80’s.
Sister Carol is a Jamaican who emigrated to NY, Brigadier Jerry heard her sing and encouraged her to take it seriously, she did and has released several albums. She’s also a very accomplished actress, you may have seen her in several Jonathan Demme films, like Married to the Mob and Rachel Getting Married.
The pictures are of Judy Mowatt.

Those are the women artists that we’ll hear and the cuts are:

1. Many are called – The IThrees.
2. Black Woman – Judy Mowatt.
3. Stepping out of Babylon – Marcia Griffith.
4. One Draw – Rita Marley.
5. Someone loves you honey – J.C. Lodge.
6. Tenement Yard – Sophie George.
7. Until – Nadine Sutherland.
8. Everything I own – Carlene Davis.
9. Uptown Top Rankin – Althea & Donna.
10. Jah Mysterious Works – Hortense Ellis.
11. Babylon must fall – Barbara Paige.
12. International Style – Sister Carol.

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9 thoughts on “THE WOMEN IN REGGAE

  1. I’ve been listening to this most of the afternoon. It is a really wonderful playlist and I wish I could buy it, with your “liner notes”, on CD.

  2. Uptown Top Rankin is an absolute classic.

    I was rather a fan of Puma Jones in her day, and not only because of her magnificent name. Any thoughts? I’ve never quite got a sense of how Black Uhuru are/were regarded in hardline reggae circles.

  3. Aba: Puma invited us to her house one day, a very tiny nondescript house in Kingston where she lived alone with her small daughter. I recently was sorting through some old C90’s and there was an extensive interview with her, one that I’d totally forgotten about. I have a bunch of photos somewhere. I liked her personally plus she added a lot to Uhuru who were a very well regarded group back then, she was with them through their most creative period and on about half a dozen albums.
    I saw them several times.
    Richard; It’s in the RR Dropbox, you can copy it from there, copy and paste the ‘liner notes’.

  4. thanks for DB’ing GF. I was wondering when I could get time to listen to these as the descriptions sounded so great – problem solved!

    Looking forward to listening tomorrow

  5. finally got time to listen sir, brilliant list – i love a good female voice – and one’s with attitude are the one’s I appreciate most.. especially if there’s interesting accompaniment.

    Who was top trumps on first play through?
    Well, my taste was gripped by:
    Sophie George/ Althea & Donna/ Hortense Ellis/ Sister Carol.
    All the tracks were brilliant – but these stood out for me. Uptown Top Rankin is one of my all time Favourite tracks – stunning set GF.

  6. thoroughly enjoyed that GF, thanks.

    Of the new-to-me’s, Rita Marley’s ode to da ‘erb and Sister Carol’s harder-edged dancehall style really stood out for me, great stuff.

    I think this playlist will stay on my iPod for the rest of the summer at least, perfect for a nice sunny, hot day, cheers!

  7. I had a cassette tape (made for me, not commercial) of Barbara Paige and one of the songs “If JahJah be for us, who can be against us?” just got stuck in my head for no reason whatsoever. Your page is one of the few hits on a Google Search for Barbara Paige. It was an awesome record! Wonder what happened to her on down the line? Roots Rock Reggae was a fine chapter of my life. Kinda miss it sometimes!

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