I heard word from Myrna Hague-Bradshaw this week that the talented Jamaican jazz singer Totlyn Jackson died on June 15th. Totlyn had a long career in entertainment, first in Jamaica and then in England. I devote an entire chapter to this beautiful woman in my book, Songbirds: Pioneering Women in Jamaican Music.
The Voice wrote of her passing, “TOTLYN JACKSON, one of Jamaica’s little known musical exports from the 1960s, passed away in London on June 15 after a short illness. She was just one month short of her 85th birthday.
Once described as Jamaica’s first lady of song, Totlyn Jackson, made her name as a popular cabaret singer performing at some of the finest hotels on the island’s north coast during Jamaica’s tourist industry boom period of the 1950s.
It was at these venues that she met some of Hollywood’s famous actors including Clark Gable, Bob Hope and Paul Newman.
Totlyn once said that her journey into music started when she would sing in her mother’s church choir along with her four siblings while growing up in St Mary in rural Jamaica. ‘I always had music and inner harmony. By the time I was seven or eight I knew all the songs. My parents wanted us to speak the best English possible so I always won elocution and singing competitions.’
As she progressed in the church choirs, she was spotted by Stuart Sharp, the maitre d’ at the Silver Season hotel who felt she could utilise her singing talents in the hotel’s entertainment nightly shows. It was from here that Totlyn became the island’s best known cabaret singer performing at venues such as Jamaica Hilton, Round Hill and the Kingston Sheraton.
As Jamaica gained Independence in 1962 and the tourism industry slowed down from the boom years of the 1950s, Totlyn changed her cabaret style to musicals which gave her the opportunity to go on tours to America, Britain, Europe and the Soviet Union.
She later settled in London with her mother and her son Fran and continued her singing career in clubs and also the theatre. She performed in some of London’s prestigious venues including, Quaglino’s Allegro, Royal Albert Hall, London’s Playboy Club, the Cabaret Club Manchester and the Royal Restaurant in Liverpool.
Her theatre performances included the rock musical Catch My Soul and William Shakespeare’s Othello. Her singing and theatre career gave her the opportunity to perform in countries like Canada, Scandinavia, the Soviet Union, Holland, Germany, Romania, Czechoslovakia and East Africa.
As she retired from touring and cabaret performances, she switched her focus to Jamaican art and culture and in 2002 teamed up with Batteresa Arts Centre to produce ‘Boonoonoonus’ a celebration of Jamaican music to mark the island’s 40th Independence anniversary.
At the time, Totlyn said it was her way of reaching out to the second and third generation to remind them about their Jamaican heritage.”
Just last November I devoted a blog post to this wonderful woman complete with archival photos and clips of her performing. Click on the link below to link to that post, have a read, and let’s remember this legend and thank her for her contribution to music the world over.