"Boogie On Reggae Woman": Recognizing the Women of Reggae
We often celebrate reggae artists that have laid the foundation for the genre for their clever and honest lyrics that have exemplified the sign of the times. Yet, there is little recognition for the women who have contributed to the history of reggae and paved the way for future female artists alike.
This list of female reggae artists probably consists of the most recognized artists to the amateur reggae fan. It serves as a platform to explore women of the genre further. These women should not be forgotten and should be added to the list of “greats” that we so highly favor in reggae music.
In 1974, Rita Marley, Judy Mowatt, and Marcia Griffiths came together to form the singing group, The I-Threes, which provided the rich harmonies that backed Bob Marley until his death in 1981.
Rita Marley: The widow of Bob Marley continues to keep the reggae legend’s music and message alive following his premature death in 1981. She is also a solo artist in her own right and released several LPs, which bore hits such as “One Draw” and “A Jah Jah.” She currently serves as the chairperson of the Robert Marley Foundation, Bob Marley Trust, and founded the Rita Marley Foundation, with its focus on poverty alleviation (ritamarleyfoundation.org)
Judy Mowatt: In addition to the contribution of her talent as 1/3 of the I-Threes, Judy Mowatt lent her beautiful harmonies to albums by Jimmy Cliff, Peter Tosh, Big Youth, Pablo Moses, U Roy, Freddie McGregor, and the Wailing Souls. Her solo recordings, including the hit “Black Woman” in 1980 and “Only a Woman” two years later, marked her as a powerful spokesperson for the Rastafari movement and feminist causes. After 22 years as a practicing Rastafarian, Ms. Mowatt converted to Christianity and recorded several gospel albums.
Marcia Griffiths: Dubbed the “Empress of Reggae,” Marcia Griffiths has maintained a successful singing career. Her crossover hit, “Electric Boogie,” made the line dance, the Electric Slide, an international craze which also earned her the privilege of having the highest selling reggae single by a female artist to date.
Most famous for her first single “You Don't Love Me (No, No, No),” Dawn Penn recorded the song for Clement Sir Coxsone Dodd’s Studio 1 label while she was still in high school. With several recordings that followed, in 1970, she picked up and moved to the Virgin Islands to raise her family. She moved back to Jamaica in 1987 and re-entered the music scene, which included a re-recording of her most popular song. “You Don’t Love Me (No, No, No)” has been featured in many compilation albums, remixes, and has topped reggae charts worldwide.
Known as the world’s first female dancehall deejay, Sister Nancy’s reggae anthem “Bam Bam” is undoubtedly a classic in the world of reggae and dancehall. Sister Nancy broke many barriers which included being the first female deejay to perform at Reggae Sunsplash, and the first female Jamaican deejay to perform internationally. She released three albums, “One, Two,” “The Yellow, The Purple, & The Nancy” (with Yellowman, Fathead, and Purpleman), and the more recent “Sister Nancy Meets Fireproof” (2007). She has also been involved in various collaborations, including an Inity Weekly favorite, “Originality” with Thievery Corporation.
So there you go, a look at some of the most influential female reggae artists of our time. Go beyond what you know, go beyond the hits and you will see why these women deserve to be distinguished as legends in their own right. "Boogie on, reggae woman."
Here’s a list of more female reggae artists that you may know (or that you should know of and add to your repertoire):