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Romance hits high note with duets - Male-female combination enjoys popularity in early music history

Published:Sunday | March 11, 2012 | 12:00 AM
Derrick Morgan and Patsy sharing the stage.

Last week, the music diaries showcased male singing duos in early Jamaican popular music. This combination, as you may have observed, produced a plethora of hit recordings that rode high on the Jamaican charts during the late 1950s and 1960s. Done in a number of different styles, they were rich, powerful recordings that went to the heart of the music and touched the hearts of many.

In many instances, these recordings acted like a springboard that catapulted some of the artistes into successful solo careers.

The situation was not much different as it relates to the male/female singing duos, as they too enjoyed a great measure of popularity. Getting most of their inspiration from the black American duo Shirley and Lee, these recordings understandably focused mostly on the theme of romance.

Some of the recordings that can assuredly be counted as being among the most popular in this set are: Sugar Plum by Owen Grey and Millie Small, Housewives Choice by Derrick Morgan and Millicent 'Patsy' Todd, When You Call My Name by Stranger Cole and Millicent Todd, We'll Meet by Roy Panton and Millie Small, Welcome You Back Home and The Vow by the Barbados-born Jackie Opel and Doreen Shaeffer, We Will Be Lovers by Lord Creator and Norma Fraser, and perhaps the most popular of this type - the perennial R&B ballad Worried Over You by Keith Stewart and Enid Cumberland (Keith and Enid).

The benchmark

This recording moved between the No.1 and No.2 slots on the Jamaican charts for several weeks in 1960. It was indeed the second most popular recording in Jamaica behind Laurel Aitken's Little Sheila during that year. Backed by the very competent and compact Trenton Spence Orchestra, with Trenton Spence doing a very moving saxophone solo, the recording became the benchmark by which other recordings of that type were judged.

The duo of Keith and Enid continued in this same vein in 1961 and 1962 with the hit recordings It's Only A Pity, Send Me and What Have I Done.

Millie Small, who created history by being the first Jamaican to put a recording at the top of the British charts, and by extension the first to make an international impact, began her recording career by singing in duet with Owen Grey on the recording Sugar Plum - a peppy blues ballad done for producer Clement Dodd in 1961.

In an interview with Grey some time ago, he claimed he was the one who first took her into studio to do that recording. Millie followed up in 1962 with another duet - a ska piece done with Roy Panton titled We'll Meet for the Carib Disco record label. The song ranked among the top-10 Jamaican recordings that year.

Small was subsequently taken to England by music mogul Chris Blackwell to help set up his Island Record label.

Small, while in England, then sang in duet with her third male partner, Wilfred 'Jackie' Edwards on a number of recordings there.

Another female who seemed to attract more than one male singing partner was Millicent Todd, better known by her singing name - Patsy.

She first recorded in duet with Derrick Morgan on the song Learn Not To Brag for producer Duke 'The Trojan' Reid. Singing as Derrick and Patsy, the two had other worthwhile recordings with Don't You Worry, I'm In A Jam, and their most popular hit together Housewives Choice for Leslie Kong's Beverley's label.

This recording, originally titled You Don't Know, derived its new title for being the most requested song by housewives on one of the popular radio stations at the time. Patsy acquired her second singing partner in the person of Stranger Cole, after she was left somewhat stranded by the departure of Derrick Morgan, who went abroad in the company of Prince Buster to tie up a business deal with Melodisc Records.

Stranger and Patsy in duet then recorded several creditable pieces during the ska era.

But the one that held the attention of music lovers, and was indeed one of the most popular among Jamaicans at the time was When You Call My Name, done for producer Duke Reid in 1963. History has it that Derrick, on his return, was a little peeved at the new developments and a showdown loomed, albeit friendly.

The situation was soon resolved and normality restored.

The duet-singing exploits of the Barbados-born singer Dalton Bishop, better known as Jackie Opel, in tandem with the vivacious female Doreen Shaffer is also well known. Welcome You Back Home and The Vow, done for Coxson in 1964, were big hits for the duo. In addition, they were at one time the resident vocalists for the mighty Skatalites band. As a solo artiste, Opel distinguished himself on such studio One hits as Turn Your Lamps Down, You're Too Bad, You're No Good, and the subtly suggestive Push Wood In The Fire Jackie. Doreen, on the other hand, did backup for several artistes and had a few moderately successful recordings while with Studio One.

Sweet romantic ballad

Norma Frazer, who had the big rocksteady Studio One hit The First Cut Is The Deepest in the mid-sixties, had her first outing singing in duet with Kenrick Patrick, better known as Lord Creator.

The recording, titled We Will Be Lovers, was a sweet, romantic ballad done for the Randy's label in 1963. Interestingly, the recording was never originally intended to be done as a duet. In an exclusive interview with Creator - the writer, and myself, he explained that Norma, for some reason, was unable to handle the recording on her own, and he just joined to assist her.

There were other Jamaican recordings involving male and female duos in early Jamaican popular music, some of which might have been omitted. However, those mentioned must assuredly be counted as being among some of the most popular of that set.