Jamaica has produced some of the most beautiful voices in the world from the female population. Who can forget the Queen Marcia Griffith, who was once courted by berry Gordie and Motown? Dawn Penn, Nadine Sutherland and a host of others. Still not many remember one of the original soulful singers, because she came up in the early era of Ska. This is a period, like the Rocksteady era, that are often dismissed as gimmicky and ancient.
Dillon was born in 1948 in Linstead, St. Catherine, Jamaica. Influenced by American singers Connie Francis, Patti Page and Dionne Warwick, she began singing in talent contests. It was during a performance at the Glass Bucket Club in Kingston, Jamaica with the group The Vulcans, that Duke Reid’s session guitarist Lynn Taitt discovered Dillon. Dillon was 19 when she recorded her first record for Duke Reid. In 1967, Reid released Dillon’s “Don’t Stay Away”. While most of Dillon’s subsequent recordings would be covers of popular and obscure American songs including Bettye Swann’s “Make Me Yours”, Perry Como’s “Tulips and Heather,” The Grass Roots’ “Midnight Confessions,” and Stephen Stills’s “Love the One You’re With”; “Don’t Stay Away” was an original composition featuring Tommy McCook and the Supersonics as the backing band.
Don’t Stay Away
Another original song, “It’s Rocking Time” would later be turned into the Alton Ellis‘ hit “Rocksteady”. While these early recordings demonstrate Dillon’s mastery of the rocksteady sound, a much slower, soulful, response to the sultry weather that made ska’s upbeat rhythm and tempo undesirable even impracticable, it was no indication of her greatest performance.
It’s Rocking Time
At the end of 1967, Dillon moved to New York. The following five years, she spent living a double life. She had a family and career in the United States, flying frequently back to Kingston, Jamaica to continue recording for Reid.
Don’t Touch Me Tomato ( made famous by Josephine Baker)
Love The One You’re With
Take My Heart
I WEAR HIS RING
After a number of singles and an album entitled Living in Love, Dillon ended her recording career in 1971. She was 23 years old. In 1991, Michael Bonnet, the entertainment director for the Oceanea Hotel in Kingston approached Dillon inviting her to sing. Her refusal at first was later rescinded and sparked a revitalized interest in performing and recording. In the years following, Dillion would tour the UK, Germany and Japan. In 1998 Phyllis Dillon returned to the recording studio with Lynn Taitt, marked by reinterest in ska music in the United States. She remained active until illness took hold.
Picture On The Wall
Phyllis Dillon died on 15 April 2004 in New York, after a two-year battle with cancer, at the age of 56
This is my very favorite Phyllis Dillon song of all time.
One Life To Live