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11-y-o 'Toothpick' leads the band - Musicians hesitated to play for Marcia Griffiths on big-stage debut

Published:Tuesday | April 3, 2018 | 12:00 AMMel Cooke/Gleaner Writer
Marcia Griffiths in performance back in the day.
The former I-Threes, (from left) - Marcia Griffiths, Judy Mowatt and Rita Marley


At 11 years old and "90-something" pounds, Marcia Griffiths was nicknamed 'Toothpick'. The dress she had made for her Easter Monday performance at the Carib Cinema, Cross Roads, 54 years ago emphasised that slenderness. She liked close-fitting dresses and the silver at the bottom, below a white bodice, was a personal statement. For, as Griffiths told The Gleaner, she came to shine like a star.

Up to the point where she opened her mouth to sing Carla Thomas' No Time to Lose to a packed holiday house, starting without the guitar introduction and forcing a reluctant Dragonaires band to follow, Griffiths had a lot to prove to those on stage with her. Philip James, of the duo Blues Busters, had heard Griffiths singing in Hannah Town, harmonising with Uton on his original song, Wall of Love, and was so impressed that he insisted she be added to the line-up.


Love for harmony


"I always loved harmonies," Griffiths said, noting that she would expand on those done in recordings she heard on radio as she sang along.

It was an ability she would carry over to the I-Threes, with Rita Marley and Judy Mowatt and it served her well that Easter Monday morning at the Carib.

There was resistance to Griffiths being allowed to perform, but when MC Tony Verity announced her, Griffiths said "I had no doubt in myself. I walked out very confident." She waited for the guitar introduction.

And waited. All she heard behind her was "pure shuffling. I looked around at them. I could hear the crowd getting uneasy."

So, with some divine assistance, Toothpick took the lead.

"God was with me from that time. I heard a voice, 'sing little girl, start sing'. So I started to sing and they had to follow me," Griffiths said. "In those days, when you sing over someone's song, you imitate them to the 't'." Plus, she said, "I was harmonising myself. If you close your eyes you think it's Carla Thomas. The audience got up in an uproar!"

That lasted even after Griffiths ended.

"When I'm finished and I'm coming off, the crowd was saying, 'bring her back!'," she recalled. Verity explained that she had prepared just the one song and "they were saying, 'let her sing the same song!'"

Griffiths did not return to the Carib Cinema's stage that day, but the Easter Monday performance was the foundation of her nearly five and a half decades of music since. Ronnie Nasralla immediately offered to manage her, Lynford Anderson took Griffiths and her father to Studio One to record her first song that day and she even ended up as a vocalist with the Dragonaires who had not wanted to play for her.

Each Easter Monday, Griffiths told The Gleaner, she reflects on her big-stage debut.

"Oh my goodness! There is no way on earth I could ever forget that day! This is my first time singing when God said, 'this is your portion'.... I always said I wanted to be of service to mankind and this is what God gave to me," Griffiths said.