Widely heralded as the 'Queen' or 'Empress of Reggae', Marcia Griffiths has remained at the forefront of her profession for a period spanning over half a century, consistently reinforcing her status as the most popular female vocalist in Jamaica. To date, she has recorded numerous solo hits for some of the island's most celebrated producers, achieved international chart success through her chart-busting singles with Bob Andy and toured the globe, backing Bob Marley, as a member of his celebrated vocal group, the I Threes.

This collection, comprising arguably her two finest albums to date, coupled together on CD for the first time, provide ample evidence of why she has been held in such high regard for so long.

Marcia Llyneth Griffiths was born in Hannah Town, Kingston, Jamaica on 23rd November 1949. Her father, Joseph worked as a carpenter and was naturally protective to his progeny, whom he caringly managed in her developing musical career. During her formative years Marcia had found inspiration through a variety of sources and at an early age joined her local church choir and began performing in musical presentations at school.

Aged fifteen, she embarked on a professional singing career following a performance in the presence of the eminent Blues Buster vocalist Phillip James, who had suggested she participate in a local talent competition. Encouraged by his comments, Marcia entered the contest and after charming both judges and audience alike with her performance, was invited to appear on Jamaican TV.

This in turn led to a regular performance with Byron Lee & the Dragonaires and an invitation from Clement 'Coxsone' Dodd to record a number of sides at his celebrated Brentford Road recording studio. Over the next few years, Marcia honed her talent both on the live circuit and in the studio, cutting a number of well received singles that saw issue in Jamaica on a number of the producer's imprints. By the dawn of the rock steady era, she was firmly established as one of the most popular female stars on the Jamaican music scene, with her partnership with Studio One label-mate, Keith Anderson aka Bob Andy proving particularly productive. With Andy as both her advisor and songwriter, Marcia enjoyed considerable success with such sublime works as 'Truly', 'Melody Life', 'Tell Me Now', 'Always' Together' and the irresistible 'Feel Like Jumping'.

But as her singles had peppered the local charts, financial remuneration for both Marcia and her creative partner proved disappointing, and as 1968 drew to a close, both decided to move on to pastures new. Brief spells working with Sonia Pottinger and German-based producer, Boris Jojic ensued, but around the spring of 1969, both she and Andy joined the rapidly expanding artist roster of Harry 'J' Johnson, whose career as a record company boss was still in its infancy.

Following a popular reworking of Jackie DeShannon's 'Put A Little Love In Your Heart', Marcia teamed up in the studio with Andy to record a version of Nona Simone's inspirational 'To Be Young, Gifted And Black' the master tape of which Johnson then took to London. Upon hearing the recording, Trojan's management decided that while the track was certainly appealing, its chance of UK chart success could be greatly enhanced by the addition of orchestration. The decision certainly paid dividends, with the string embellishments, added at London's Chalk Farm Studio, ensuring a number 5 placing on the country's pop listings.

While the 7" graced the charts, Bob & Marcia flew to London to promote their chartbuster, as Trojan sought to further capitalise on their popularity with a hurriedly released album that drew its title from their hit single. Soon after, the company had the duo record an album's worth of material, with the sessions spawning their second major UK hit, 'Pied Piper', a song previously popularised by both the Changin' Times' and Crispian St. Peters. The single, which made it to number eleven on the British charts, was swiftly followed by a second Bob & Marcia album, unsurprisingly named after the 45.

A fleeting period with CBS Records ensued, although precious little in the way of recorded work surfaced from the arrangement and following the couple's return to Jamaica, Bob was recruited by the Tropical Soundtracks label as its A&R manager.

Meanwhile, Marcia cut a series of fine singles for Harry Johnson prior to sessions with Lloyd 'Charmers' Tyrell that ultimately resulted in the 'Play Me Sweet And Nice' album, which was retitled 'Sweet Bitter Love' for its UK release.

Soon after, she persuaded Rita Marley and Judy Mowatt to join her onstage at a live show in Jamaica, with their performance witnessed by Bob Marley who was so impressed with their harmonies that he asked them to provide backing vocals on his album 'Natty Dread'; Bunny Wailer and Peter Tosh having both recently departed from the Wailers.

Marcia had in fact previously sung alongside Rita Marley and the Wailers for their 1972 single, 'Baby We've Got A Date', but now both officially became part of the group's line-up. As the I Threes, Marcia, Rita and Judy remained with the Tuff Gong up until his untimely demise in 1980, although during this time, each maintained their respective solo careers, reinforcing their standing as three of reggae music's most popular solo performers of the era.

Throughout this period, Marcia had recorded material solo for the island's leading female producer, Sonia Eloise Pottinger, a major player on the Kingston music scene since the mid-60s when she had launched her Gay Feet label. Pottinger had consistently produced outstanding work throughout the roots era, with Bob Andy, Culture, the Revolutionaries and Sonya Spence among the list of artists to benefit from their relationship with her. Among her most noteworthy long players from this time were the two albums that comprise this collection: 'Naturally' and 'Steppin''.

The former opens with 'Dreamland' aka 'My Dream Island'. a song first recorded in 1964 by US R&B vocal group the El Tempos in 1964 and later revived to great effect by Bunny Livingston and the Wailers. the number has since proved to be one of the undisputed classics of mystical roots reggae that itself perfectly to the rockers style, and Marcia's sublime version set the tone for what to become a seminal reggae collection.

The track is followed by a remake of her Studio One Bob Andy-penned classic, 'Tell Me Now', a paean to the uncertainty of breaking up: "just to be sure if you must leave me now". Clearly one of Marcia's favourites, she revisited the number a third time 'inna dancehall style' with Bounty Killa in 1995, with a fourth version appearing on her 1999 album, 'Certified'.

A further five compositions by her sometime partner that were first cut during the rock steady era also grace the 'Naturally' album, namely the romantically-themed 'Truly', 'Mark My Word (I'm Gonna Be Your Girl)' and 'Melody Life', the hugely influential 'I've Got To go Back Home' and the irresistible 'Feel Like Jumping' - Marcia's most familiar hit from her time at Studio One, which she revisited again in 1993 for producer Donovan Germain.

The Studio One homage continues unabated with Bob Marley's 'Lonesome Feeling', a song first cut by the Wailers as a ska scorcher in 1964. Marcia's rendering remains faithful to the original while being brought up to date in the crisp rockers style, with Sly Dunbar's drumming augmenting a tight rhythm.

In contrast, 'Survival (Is The Game)' was a relatively new composition, having recently been written by Brent Dowe and Rentford Cogle for the Melodians, whose version was issued by Pottinger in 1974. Realising the song's hit potential, the producer promptly had Marcia revisit the number, using the rhythm track of the original, with the result being one of the songstress's most popular High Note singles.

Released in 1978, the 'Naturally' album swiftly became one of the most popular reggae long players of the year and reaffirmed Marcia's standing as Jamaica's leading female artistes. In response to overwhelming public demand, Mrs. Pottinger encouraged the singer to cut enough material for a second collection and by the following year the producer had assembled a further ten tracks to comprise the equally impressive 'Steppin'' LP.

Opening the set is 'Where Were You', which after a funk style opening, kicks in with a tight steppers rhythm courtesy of Mickey 'Boo' Richard and Radcliffe 'Dougie' Bryan, complemented by the keyboard wizardry of Ansel Collins. Special mention too must be given to renowned hornsman, Herman Marquis, whose graceful saxophone solo superbly compliments Marcia's sweet vocals.

'stepping Out Of Babylon' that follows id the singer's best-known original composition, having provided her with a significant hit in 1978. Marcia's performance aside, the track is notable for the sublime playing of ace hornsmen Dean Fraser, Nambo Robinson and Clive Hunt, along with Uziah Sticky Thompson's roots styled percussion. One Bob Marley's final tour in 1980, the I Threes opened the concert performing both individually and collectively, and needless to say, the set list included a showstopping version of the song. The studio cut later inspired the Jamaican songstress and MOBO nominee, Etana to rework the number, while it was later revisited by Marcia, alongside Buju Banton, (Mad) Cobra, Tony Rebel and Beenie Man.

The Bob Andy-Studio One connection resumes with the third track, an irresistible update of 'It's Impossible', a song that had first been recorded by Delroy Wilson for Dodd's operation in 1966. Featured on backing vocals are Ken Boothe and Harris 'BB' Seaton, who wrote three other excellent tracks on the album, namely 'The Way I Feel About You', 'Why There Is No Love' and the wonderful and culturally inspired 'Where Is The Love (That God Gave To You)'.

More familiar to Marcia's long-standing fans is the beautiful 'Sweet Bitter Love', which was first originally recorded by soul queen, Aretha Franklin in 1966 before being revived to great effect by Roberta Flack some five years later. It was the latter version that inspired Marcia's popular 1974 adaptation for Lloyd Charmers, the arrangement of which was closely replicated on this High Note cut.

The next offering, 'Give And You'll Get', is another oldie from Marcia's back catalogue, the singer having first recorded it with her husband Errol Thompson who wrote and produced the song for Harry Johnson in 1975. The Jackie Edwards-penned 'Peaceful Woman', which follows, was first released as a single in '77, with the disc peaking at number five in the UK Black Music reggae singles chart that year. In 2010 the song held a respectfully high profile when it was used in tribute to the late Mrs. Sonia Pottinger, who prior to her passing had been awarded an Order Of Distinction by the Jamaican government.

Marcia's long-standing association with Bob Marley is reflected in her reworking of his 'I'm Hurting Inside', a number that had originally been cut by the Wailer's in 1968 for their own Wail 'N' Soul 'M label. While this and an early seventies version failed to garner much public interest, the song has since become a firm favourite with reggae fans, due in no small part to Marcia's sublime High Note rendering. Soon after, celebrated Big Youth enlisted the singer to provide vocals on a version that featured on his 'Progress' album, which also included a laudable version of 'Stepping Out Of Babylon'.

Following her exceptionally creative spell with Sonia Pottinger, Marcia embarked on sessions for Camperdown's celebrated alumni, Bunny Wailer, for who, she recorded a number of fine sides, most notably 'Tribulation', a revival of Magueritas's Treasure Isle classic 'Woman A Come' and 'Electric Boogie, which in 1982 held the Jamaican Christmas Number One spot. The latter was subsequently issued by Island Records and became a massive US hit, earning a placing in the Billboard Top 100 as the eighties drew to a close.

Prior to her belated success with the recording, Marcia began recording with Donovan Germain and while at the producer's Penthouse Studio, teamed up with legendary deejay's, Tony Rebel ('Land Of love' aka 'Ready To Go'), Buju Banton ('Closer To You') and Cutty Ranks, ('Give Me Your Loving'), with all three joining her on 'Discovery'. Around this time she also returned to the reggae charts in combination with contemporary DJs, Queen Ifrica ('Round And Round'), Busy Signal ('Automatic') and the then current singing sensation D'Ville ('All My Life').

Throughout this period, Marcia continued to record and tour as a soloist and as part of the Wailers Band, while also appearing on a series of revival shows alongside Bob Andy and performing at major events, such as the 'Bob Marley Day Celebration' in Los Angeles and the 'Reggae Meets Rock Steady' showcase in Miami.

In 1992, such was the popularity of her work that she was recognised with a JAMI Award for the best female vocalist, while the following year, a further accolade was bestowed upon her when she was awarded with the 'Jamaican Order Of Distinction' in recognition for her services to music. Further acknowledgement of her outstanding career included the Prime Minister's 'Award of Excellence', the United Nations' 'Woman Of Esteem Award' (Commander Class) and the Jamaican Gleaner's 'Lifetime Achievement Award For Entertainment', which acknowledged her as being the most influential female artist in Jamaican popular music.

Meanwhile, Marcia maintained her prominence in the US with an appearance on the Boyz II Men's 'Spring Break' concert for MTV in Negril. Her reputation was further enhanced when she performed at Universal Studios, Orlando, celebrating the opening of the Bob Marley Museum alongside the I Threes, Ziggy Marley and Inner Circle. The high profile performances continued when she joined Penthouse stalwarts Beres Hammond and Buju Banton in New York, who played in concert at the famed Carnegie Hall and Madison Square Garden.

Marcia Griffiths celebrated 50 years in the recording industry in 2014 and over the years that have immediately followed has continued to demonstrate her supreme vocal talents with a series of impressive concerts, alongside the likes of Morgan Heritage, Beres Hammond and Third World. She is, without question, the most consistently successful Jamaican female vocalist to date, having recorded some of the most memorable and popular Jamaican recordings of all time, be they ska, rock steady, roots or modern dancehall. Yet while she is fully deserving of her oft-repeated mantles of the 'Queen' or 'Empress Of Reggae', she remains the most unassuming lady I have ever met. Long may she reign.

Stephen Nye - 2017



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