Sun | Aug 20, 2017

Dawn Penn starts out as Connie McGann - 1962 performance precedes professional career

Published:Sunday | April 23, 2017 | 4:02 AM
Dawn Penn

You Don't Love Me (No, No, No) has made singer Dawn Penn well known, but the song's performer could have had a different name. She told The Sunday Gleaner that "my first public performance was when I entered the Jamaica Independence Festival Celebrations in the Pop section. I sang and accompanied myself on the piano as Connie McGann. The track was called Make Up Your Mind."

The lady whose name is Dawn Pickering, marks 50 years in the business of music this year, starting from the first recording of You Don't Love Me (No, No, No) for Studio One in 1967. Her most recent single is You And Me, the fourth release from the album Never Hustle The Music. The song was released, along with a video, in Mexico last year.

Penn was not intent on a popular music singing career, telling The Sunday Gleaner, "I was studying classical music, meaning Chopin, Mozart, Schubert, Handel, and more; doing the Royal Schools of music exams - theory of music, rudiments, oral culture; and learning to play the violin. Doing music professionally was like a hobby because I was a certified professional secretary."

She worked with the Dotsie Gordon Employment Agency, Barclay's Bank (the forerunner to National Commercial Bank), UNICEF, National Import Export Bank of Jamaica, Pannell Fitzpatrick (chartered accountants), and as a ground hostess on Eastern Caribbean airline LIAT.

With all that, though, there were the people she socialised with, and it was through this route that Penn ended up at Studio One.

"I always had friends who were going to Coxson, and I went over Brentford Road one Sunday and did an audition. Mr Dodd said I should come back the Monday for recording," she said.

Her first recording was When I'm Gonna Be Free, but Penn says that she did not know that she was actually being taped.

"I was merely playing the piano and was being taped. I discovered it was a record many years after the date, that it was on auction as a rare track by me," she said.

 

THE BIG BEAT

 

Entering professional music as she did, Penn said: "I was ignorant in the knowledge of music as a business. I am not satisfied with the operation of the administration end of creating music, as it was then. It has and is now improving momentarily."

Like many Jamaican performers, Penn left home for an extended period. Unlike the wave of persons who followed the beat to England, where it found fertile soil, she went to another part of the Caribbean. "In 1972, I went to Tortola, British Virgin Islands (the country my Dad was from) to check out my roots on his side and stayed there for 17 years. I had already checked my mom's side," Penn said.

So her first album was done in the 1990s, "when I got signed by Big Beat/Atlantic/

WEA Corporation". Prior to that, "projects were happening on a shoe-string budget." The Big Beat album was No, No, No (1994), and since then, her full-length discography includes Come Again (1996) and Vintage (2010), according to www.discogs.com.

She visits Jamaica, but Penn's last performance here "was in 2008 when I came to shoot the documentary, Get Ready To Rocksteady - Rocksteady the Roots of Reggae."

Her website, www.dawnpenn.com, lists performances in 2016, among them the Tramlines Festival from July 22 - 24 and the Manchester Reggae/Ska Festival in August. Penn told The Sunday Gleaner, "I have had eight shows since 2017, and the biggest one I did was the Outlook Festival's 10th Anniversary at the Royal Festival Hall in Southwark, London, backed by a 20-piece orchestra conducted by Tommy Evans. I have a show coming up in Martinique with the band called Tribal Awakening."

- M.C.