In honor of Women’s History Month, GRAMMY.com highlights some of the foundational women who have shaped the sounds of reggae and dancehall as well as spotlights one artist who is taking one of the genres into the future
When many people think of reggae, one name immediately comes to mind: Bob Marley. The legend is just one of many prominent men — including the late Bunny Wailer and Toots Hibbert — whose voice and production work get major credit for shaping the popular Jamaican genre as well as other sounds of the Caribbean.
The reality is, women have built much of Jamaica’s musical scene. From the freedom sounds of ska to reggae’s conscious lyrics and grooving downbeat — which originated in the late ’60s before catching fire worldwide the following decade — to the sexually suggestive, digitized and dubbed out world of dancehall that sprung up in the ’80s, women are the largely unheralded backbone of these sounds. Singers Doreen Shaffer (The Skatalites), Patsy Todd, and Millie Small (“My Boy Lollipop”) were among the many women whose vocals appeared on ska records in the early ’60s; Phyllis Dillon, Flora Adams, among others, were the voices leading rocksteady; Rita Marley, Judy Mowatt, Jennifer Lara, and Althea and Donna operated at the nexus of reggae and lovers rock, a romantic style of reggae; Lady G, Diana King and Lady Saw pioneered dancehall style.
Today, women continue to lead a new generation of artists in reggae and dancehall — Koffee and Lila Iké among them. In honour of Women’s History Month, GRAMMY.com highlights some of the foundational women who have shaped the sounds of reggae and dancehall as well as spotlights one artist who is taking one of the genres into the future.