Carolyn Cooper | Mrs Chin breaks records in VP’s shop
Mrs Patricia Chin, affectionately known as Miss Pat, is the formidable P in VP Records. She’s a woman of distinction who has broken many barriers in the music business from those early days when she and her husband Vincent established the legendary Randy’s Record Shop in downtown Kingston. Clive ‘DJ Kool Herc’ Campbell, the Jamaican-born founder of hip-hop, rightfully puts Miss Pat in the league of outstanding pioneers in the music industry: “What Berry Gordy was to Motown Records, what Russell Simmons was to Def Jam Recordings, what Sylvia Robinson was to Sugar Hill Records, what Clive Davis was to Arista Records, Patricia Chin is to the reggae industry and VP Records”.
The life story of this remarkable Jamaican woman has just been published by VP Records: Miss Pat: My Reggae Music Journey From Mento, Ska, Rocksteady, Reggae To Dancehall. It’s an elegant book, brilliantly designed by Maria Papaefstathiou, an exceptional graphic artist from Greece. Jamaican graphic designer Michael ‘Freestylee’ Thompson, who co-founded the International Reggae Poster Contest with Maria, introduced her to Miss Pat. That was the start of a long-lasting collaboration. Michael’s pensive poster of Miss Pat is the cover image. Many of his and Maria’s iconic portraits of Jamaican music legends grace the pages of the book. It is lavishly illustrated with both vintage and contemporary photographs that vividly document the vibrant history of Jamaican popular music.
In 2015, the American Association of Independent Music honoured Mrs Patricia Chin with a Lifetime Achievement Award. In the opening pages of her story, Miss Pat recalls that grand occasion: “I have always felt proud to be a woman. So as I take my 4’11’’ ‘tallawah’ self onstage and wave at the cheering crowd now on their feet, I accept the award for all women – short and tall – working their way up a male-dominated field. It is a journey I know all too well. But I want more company on that stage. This is why I encourage female artists to keep trying. This is why I tell young women that they can do more than take care of their home and children. I tell them they can run a home and business at the same time if they really want to. ‘Just start where you are,’ I always say. ‘The rest will follow’”.
BREAKING THE SHOP CYCLE
It was not only the gender barrier that Miss Pat levelled. When she moved to New York she was taken under the wings of her much-admired Aunt Edna, “a courageous woman who had left Jamaica in her thirties to break the shop cycle.” Miss Pat alludes to the fact that shopkeeping was the destiny of many Chinese families in Jamaica. Aunt Edna became a role model for Miss Pat. She had escaped the confines of social expectations: “She exposed me to the work she was doing with the NAACP (The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) took me to charity events, and encouraged me to keep going forward no matter how tough things got”. Aunt Edna is still going strong at 94!
Breaking the shop cycle also meant forming new relationships with other racial groups. In the long-ago days of trust, the open counter of the Chinese grocery shop was a bridge between seller and buyer. Over time, as crime increased and race-relations deteriorated, the shop was transformed. The counter became an impenetrable barrier. Floor to ceiling metal grilles were installed, leaving only a small hole through which goods and money could pass. Social interaction was purely commercial.
In Jamaica, Miss Pat had already learned how to break the grocery shop cycle. She traded in food for the soul. For many years she worked behind the counter at Randy’s Record shop, a special place where shopkeeper and customer reclaimed kinship through music. And when the recording studio was installed, it opened up a whole new magical world. Miss Pat describes Randy’s and Studio 17 as “this fantastic ‘enjoyment agency’”. Right next to the infamous alley known as “Idler’s Rest”!
Over the counter, Miss Pat engaged with the creators of all the new waves of Jamaican music. Bunny ‘Striker’ Lee confirms Miss Pat’s role in advancing the career of many artistes: “Miss Pat help the whole of we; you would have said the Godfather, but she ah the Godlady fi all of we, she helpful and she responsible for all of us, like Bunny Lee, Lee Perry, Linford Anderson and Clancy Eccles. Miss Pat give all of we a push start and she treat us pon the same level. She is one of the greatest, and any man say otherwise, I can testify it’s a lie them a tell”.
Miss Pat never forgets the push start she got in her own life. From a one-room home with all five family members sleeping on the same bed, she stepped up in life lickle bi lickle. Family was the foundation. This is how she puts it: “Our close-knit family started out in life poor in material things but rich in optimism.” It has been quite a journey for Miss Pat. VP Records is now the biggest distributor of reggae, dancehall and soca music in the world.
Miss Pat’s inspiring book will definitely become a collector’s item. And it’s all for a good cause. Proceeds of sales will go to the Vincent and Patricia Foundation, “supporting music education in underserved communities in the Jamaican diaspora and the Caribbean”. The trademark of VP Records is “Miles ahead in reggae music.” On her optimistic trod, Miss Pat has certainly outpaced the competition in a male-dominated industry. Nuff respect due!