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.