Story of the Song | 'Black Cinderella' - created from poem
By 1972, singer Errol Dunkley had established a track record of turning out popular songs. Movie Star (remade by Wayne Wonder and Buju Banton in the early 1990s) had hit the year before, and You'll Never Know had started the decade strongly for Dunkley. His first hit was the 1965 You'll Never Know. So when Jimmy Rodway, who he knew from Denham Town, approached Dunkley with a poem he had written, it was time for a follow-up.
"I converted it into a song. A song carries measures, four beats to the bar. He did not write it like that, so I had to put extra lines in it to make it a song," Dunkley told The Sunday Gleaner. The lyrics of Dunkley and Rodway's combined efforts include the opening lines, "Where can I find my black Cinderella?/She cannot be far away".
The similarity of that desire and the fairy-tale prince who searched the land with a glass slipper to fit the woman who captured his heart but fled the ball at the stroke of midnight is not lost on Dunkley. "When you're going to school and they teaching you about Cinderella, they present it like Cinderella is a white woman. But when you check it, is the black women do the washing and cleaning. Black people work for white people," Dunkley said.
However, although it was in the era of the Black Power Movement, Dunkley says that Black Cinderella was not connected to it. Still, he claims "it was one of the first songs about black women".
It took about two to three days to shape the poem into a song and record it at Dynamic Sounds on Bell Road, St Andrew, in a midweek daylight summer session for poet-turned-producer Rodway. Jackie Jackson played bass guitar, Hux Brown was on guitar, Winston Wright played keyboards, Sticky did the percussion, and Tin Leg was on the drums. Dunkley chuckled as he said that the drummer got the name because of his small stature, adding, "him stomp the drum hard". Neville Lee was the engineer, and by the Saturday, Black Cinderella was on the air at both radio stations, JBC and RJR.
The Sunday Gleaner asked Dunkley when he realised that Black Cinderella was a hit and he said, "when I start to see the record sales." He reports over 60,000 copies of Black Cinderella sold, outdoing the 30,000 to 40,000 units for Movie Star. However, it was not until Christmas of 1971, that Dunkley got to see the effect of the song live and direct as he did the round of Christmas shows at the Carib, State, and Regal cinemas. "People like me, Dennis Brown, Delroy Wilson, we used to do all three shows, Christmas morning and Easter morning," Dunkley said. The response was overwhelming, as persons had been hearing Black Cinderella on the radio for months.
The most recent occasion on which Dunkley performed Black Cinderella in Jamaica was on Easter Monday this year at the Ranny Williams Entertainment Centre when he staged his birthday celebration concert. Two weeks before that, he was in Negril, and a New Year's Eve concert was the last of four US shows in 2017. He also performed in England last year but points out that Black Cinderella is not as big there as in Europe - where his British charts hit OK Fred is top of the heap - as it is in Jamaica, where the poem that became a song is a party and concert anthem.