Marcia Griffiths

Widely heralded as the ‘Queen’ or ‘Empress of Reggae’,Marcia Griffiths has remained at the forefront of her profession for a period spanning over half a century, consistently reinforcing her status as the most popular female vocalist in Jamaica. To date, she has recorded numerous solo hits for some of the island’s most celebrated producers, achieved international chart success through her chart-busting singles with Bob Andy and toured the globe, backing Bob Marley, as a member of his celebrated vocal group, the I Threes.

Marcia Llyneth Griffiths was born in Hannah Town, Kingston, Jamaica on 23rd November 1949.  Her father, Joseph worked as a carpenter and was naturally protective to his progeny, whom he caringly managed in her developing musical career. During her formative years Marcia had found inspiration through a variety of sources and at an early age joined her local church choir and began performing in musical presentations at school.

Aged fifteen, she embarked on a professional career following a performance in the presence of the eminent Blues Buster vocalist, Phillip James, who had suggested she participate in a local talent competition. Encouraged by his comments, Marcia entered a local contest and after charming both judges and audience alike with her performance, was invited to perform on Jamaican TV.

This in turn led to regular performances with Byron Lee & the Dragonaires and an invitation from Clement ‘Coxson’ Dodd to record a number of sides at his celebrated Brentford Road recording studio.  Over the next few years, she honed her talent both on the live circuit and in the studio, cutting a number of well received singles that saw issue in Jamaica on a number of Dodd‘s imprints.

By the dawn of the rock steady era, she was firmly established as one of the most popular female stars on the Jamaican music scene, with her partnership with Studio One label-mate, Keith Anderson aka Bob Andy proving particularly productive. With Andy as both her adviser and songwriter, Marcia enjoyed considerable success with such sublime works as as ‘Truly,’ ‘Melody Life’, ‘Tell Me Now’, ‘Always Together’ and the irresistible ‘Feel Like Jumping’.

But while her singles had peppered the local charts, financial remuneration for both Marcia and her creative partner proved disappointing, and as 1968 drew to a close, both decided to move on to pastures new. Brief spells working with Sonia Pottinger and German-based producer, Boris Jojic ensued, but around the spring of 1969, both she and Andy joined the rapidly expanding artist roster of Harry ‘J’ Johnson, whose career as a record company boss was still in its infancy.

Following a popular reworking of Jackie DeShannon‘s ‘Put A Little Love In Your Heart’, Marcia teamed up in the studio with Andy to record a version of Nina Simone‘s inspirational ‘To Be Young Gifted And Black’, the master tape of which Johnson subsequently took to London. Upon hearing the recording, Trojan Records‘ management decided that while the track was certainly appealling, its chances of UK chart success could be greatly enhanced by the addition of orchestration. The decision certainly paid dividends, with the string embellishments, added at London’s Chalk Farm studio, ensuring a number 5 placing on the country’s pop listings.

While the 7′ graced the chart, Bob & Marcia flew to London to promote their chartbuster, as Trojan sought to further capitalise on their popularity with a hurriedly released album that drew its title from their hit single.  Soon after, the company had the duo record an album’s worth of material, with the sessions spawning their second major UK hit, ‘Pied Piper’, a song previously popularised by both the Changin’ Times’ and Crispian St. Peters. The single, which made it to number eleven on the British charts, was swiftly followed by a second Bob & Marcia album, unsurprisingly named after the 45.

A fleeting period with CBS Records ensued, although precious little in the way of recorded work surfaced from the arrangement and following the couple’s return to Jamaica, Bob was recruited by the Tropical Soundtracks label as it’s A&R manager.

Meanwhile, Marcia cut a series of fine singles for Harry Johnson prior to sessions with Lloyd ‘Charmers’ Tyrell that ultimately resulted in the ‘Play Me Sweet And Nice’ album, which was retitled ‘Sweet Bitter Love’ for its UK release.

Soon after, she persuaded Rita Marley and Judy Mowatt to join her on stage at a live show in Jamaica, with their performance witnessed by Bob Marley who was so impressed with their harmonies that he asked them to provide backing vocals on his album, ‘Natty Dread’; Bunny Wailer and Peter Tosh having both recently departed from the Wailers.

Marcia had in fact previously sung alongside Rita Marley and the Wailers for their 1972 single, ‘Baby We’ve Got A Date’, but now both were officially part of the group’s line-up. As the I Threes, Marcia, Rita and Judy remained with the Tuff Gong up until his untimely demise in 1980, although during this time, each maintained their respective solo careers, reinforcing their standing as three of reggae music’s most popular performers of the era.

Throughout this period, Marcia had recorded solo material solo for the island’s leading female producer, Sonia Eloise Pottinger, major player on the Kingston music scene since the mid-60s when she launched her Gay Feet label. Pottinger had consistently produced outstanding work throughout the roots era, with Bob Andy, Culture, the Revolutionaries and Sonya Spence among the list of artists to benefit from their relationship with her. Among her most noteworthy long players from this time were the two albums that comprise this collection: ‘Naturally’ and ‘Steppin”.

Released in 1978, the ‘Naturally’ album swiftly became one of the most popular reggae long players of the year and reaffirmed Marcia‘s standing as Jamaica’s leading female artistes. In response to overwhelming public demand, Mrs. Pottinger encouraged the singer to cut enough material for a second collection and by the following year the producer had assembled a further ten tracks to comprise the equally impressive ‘Steppin” LP.

Following her exceptionally creative spell with Sonia Pottinger, Marcia embarked on sessions for Camperdown’s celebrated alumni, Bunny Wailer, for who, she recorded a number of fine sides, most notably ‘Tribulation’, a revival of Maguerita‘s Treasure Isle classic, ‘Woman A Come’ and ‘Electric Boogie’, which in 1982 held the Jamaican Christmas Number One spot. The latter was subsequently issued by Island Records and became a massive US hit, earning a placing in the Billboard Top 100 as the eighties drew to a close.

Prior to her belated success with the recording, she began recording with Donovan Germain and while at the producer’s Penthouse Studio, teamed up with legendary deejays, Tony Rebel, (‘Land Of Love’ aka ‘Ready To Go’) Buju Banton (‘Closer To You’) and Cutty Ranks, (‘Give Me Your Loving’), with all three joining her on ‘Discovery’. Around this time she also returned to the reggae charts in combination with contemporary DJs, Queen Ifrica (‘Round And Round’), Busy Signal (‘Automatic’) and the then current singing sensation D’Ville (‘All My Life’).

Throughout this period, Marcia continued to record and tour as a soloist and as part of the Wailers Band, while also appearing on a series of revival shows alongside Bob Andy and performing at major events, such as the ‘Bob Marley Day Celebration’ in Los Angeles and the ‘Reggae Meets Rock Steady’ showcase in Miami.

In 1992, such was the popularity of her work that she was recognised with a JAMI Award for the best female vocalis, while the following year, a further accolade was bestowed upon her when she was awarded with the ‘Jamaican Order Of Distinction’ in recognition for her services to music.

Further acknowledgement of her outstanding career included the Prime Minister‘s ‘Award of Excellence’, the United Nations‘Woman of Esteem Award’ (Commander Class) and the Jamaica Gleaner‘s ‘Lifetime Achievement Award For Entertainment’, which acknowledged her as being the most influential female artist in Jamaican popular music.

Meanwhile, she maintained her prominence in the US with an appearance on on Boyz II Men‘s ‘Spring Break’ concert for MTV in Negril. Her reputation was further enhanced when she performed at Universal Studios, Orlando, celebrating the opening of the Bob Marley Museum alongside the I Threes, Ziggy Marley and Inner Circle. The high profile performances continued when she joined Penthouse stalwarts Beres Hammond and Buju Banton in New York, who played in concert at the famed Carnegie Hall and Madison Square Gardens.

Marcia Griffiths celebrated fifty years in the recording industry in 2014 and over the years that have immediately followed has continued to demonstrate her supreme vocal talents with a series of impressive concerts, alongside the likes of Morgan Heritage, Beres Hammond and Third World.

She is, without question, the most consistently successful Jamaican female vocalist to date, having recorded some of the memorable and popular Jamaican recordings of all time, be they ska, rock steady, roots or modern dancehall age. Yet while she is fully deserving of her oft-repeated mantle as the ‘Queen Of Reggae’, she remains the most unassuming lady I have ever met. Respect is most definitely due.

Stephen Nye 2017