Sonia Pottinger: Jamaica’s First Female Record Producer

Trailblazing, by definition, can be a lonely enterprise – but someone has to move civilization forward.  Therefore, hats off to Jamaica’s first woman music producer, Sonia Pottinger, who managed to navigate a path through a field that is still overwhelmingly dominated by men and left future generations a legacy of classic recordings.

“Heaven Will Protect the Working Girl” – one of the few photos of Sonia Pottinger

Sonia Eloise PottingerUpon her passing, Howard Campbell in the November 7, 2010 edition of The Gleaner would pronounce her “Jamaica’s most successful women producer” although, curiously, neglect to point out she was the first.  Campbell would also write:

“Born in St Thomas, Pottinger was introduced to the music business by her husband L.O. Pottinger, an engineer who had relative success as a producer in the mid-1960s.  She went on her own during that period, scoring a massive hit with ‘Every Night‘, a ballad by singer Joe White.  Pottinger had considerable success in the late 1960s with her Tip Top, High Note and Gay Feet labels. She produced Errol Dunkley’s debut album, Presenting Errol Dunkley, and hit songs by vocal groups like The Melodians (‘Swing and Dine’), The Gaylads (‘Hard to Confess’) and ‘Guns Fever’ by The Silvertones.”

I was also intrigued to learn that, as Campbell notes, Pottinger bought the catalogue and operations of the esteemed Treasure Isle label after the passing of its founder/owner, Duke Reid (but only after first doing battle in Jamaica’s Supreme Court with Clement ‘Coxsone’ Dodd, as well as Duke Reid’s son and Edward ‘Bunny’ Lee’; sadly, she would die the very next year after winning her case).   Incredibly, this same publication – just 16 months later – would publish a piece entitled, “Women Who Shaped Jamaican Music” … and fail to even mention her!  Is my indignation righteous enough?  Today’s piece, consequently, is my attempt to bring about some measure of pop music social justice.

Sonia Pottinger, who would go on to receive Jamaica’s Order of Distinction

Sonia PottingerAs pointed out in yesterday’s piece, Sonia Pottinger issued two singles by pioneering reggae vibraphonist, Lennie Hibbert.  Additionally, Pottinger would be among the first of the producers in Prince Buster’s wake to incorporate the traditional and deep Nyabinghi hand drum rhythms into rocksteady and reggae music, as evidenced on Patsy Todd’s uniquely Jamaican interpretation of Miriam Makeba‘s big hit, “Pata Pata” (with backing by Count Ossie’s mighty band) – both versions released in 1967:

Every Culture album that bears the Pottinger production mark is top-notch and a must-own.  Other crucial Pottinger productions worthy of your time include this short list:

“Click Song #1”: African Pop Goes International

Is it really true what Wikipedia says about Miriam Makeba – that she’s the “first artist from Africa to popularize African music around the world”?   Given that Makeba released her first U.S. album in 1960, one can only conclude that African pop, essentially, had no American distribution links until “the Year of Africa” (as 1960 is also known, due to significant events — “particularly the independence of seventeen African nations — that focused global attention on the continent and intensified feelings of Pan-Africanism” (Wiki).

Makeba would record “Click Song” on 1960 RCA album, Miriam Makeba, while former husband, Hugh Masekela, would likewise record the song on his first US release, 1962’s Trumpet Africaine on Mercury.  Makeba would also record “Click Song” while briefly under contract to Mercury in 1966 and then revisit the song on 1967’s Pata Pata, her first of several albums for Reprise:

South African-born Makeba sings this song in Xhosa, the famously percussive tongue that her father spoke.  Seven years later, Makeba would perform this song at the Zaire ’74 three-day music festival that accompanied the epic boxing match between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman for the heavyweight championship crown.

            1968 single released in spain            1972 single released in the netherlands

Miriam Makeba 45 picture sleeve IIaMiriam Makeba 45 picture sleeve Ia

1968 Netherlands 45

Miriam Makeba 45 picture sleeve IIIa“Click Song” also saw release on 1965 LP, Jimmy Come Lately, by Four Jacks and a Jill, South African folk-popsters who would later hit the American Top 20 on March 30, 1968 with their abstrusely catchy single, “Master Jack” [but wait – in an oddly curious twist:  RCA, in 1969, would release a 45 solely for the New Zealand market with hit single, “Master Jack” as the B-side and “Click Song” as the A-side].

Cher Speaks Xhosa

Would you be stunned to learn that Cher would record her own version of “Click Song #1” for 1968’s Backstage, her last album for Liberty?  Also released as the A-side of a 45.

Cher 45