‘Songbirds’ sing praises

Ask author Heather Augustyn, the name of the world’s first female rappers and you might be surprised at her response.

Contrary to popular belief, it is not Queen Latifah.

And those that offered Queens-based Salt-N-Pepa duo as pioneers of the rap genre in 1985 would have to concede to Augustyn’s book “Songbirds: Pioneering Women In Jamaican Music.”

According to the revealing 423-page tribute, Althea Forest and Donna Reid were already blazing a trail in 1978, more than a decade before the Jersey girl dubbed herself female royalty with the release of “All Hail the Queen.”

Similarly, the duo popularly known as Althea and Donna had already won acclaim in Jamaica, performing at the island’s National Stadium at the renowned “One Love Peace Concert” long before Jamaica-born Sandy “Pepa” Denton aka Pepa met Salt collaborator Cheryl James to form Salt-n-Pepa.

“We were the first female deejays, we were the first female deejays in the world,” Althea claimed.

“There was no Queen Latifah. Queen Latifah came after us. Salt-n-Pepa came after us.”

“Anyone who claims that Althea and Donna were a ‘one-hit wonder’ is revealing their ignorance. Althea and Donna were pioneers and innovators more than they ever knew at the time they recorded their now classic song and others that followed,’ Augustyn penned.

Music insiders familiar with “Uptown Ranking” would confirm the claim.

That information and countless tid-bits provide engaging read in the Half Pint Press publication which lauds unsung enhancers to the male-touted and gender dominated music industry internationally acclaimed from Jamaica.

Chapters lauding the first lady of Jamaican Jazz – Totlyn Jackson; the Mother of Jamaican Music – Sister Ignatius Davies; the First Lady of Song – Hortense Ellis; the Queen of Ska – Doreen Shaffer; The Nightingale – Yvonne Harrison; The Rhumba Queen – Anita Mahfood; Sister of the Studio – Enid Cumberbatch; The Blue Beat Girl – Millie Small; Queen of Rock-steady – Phyllis Dillon; The Legend – Norma Fraser; Reggae Queen – Marcia Griffiths; Queen of Lovers Rock – Susan Cadogan; First lady of Recording – Sonia Pottinger and many others dub this a must-read for anyone interested in any genre of music.

Augustyn veers through the period from 1940 to the 1980s to deliver the gospel on Jamaica’s pioneering women. And yes, first-time gospel recorders are included in this text-book.

Add country, and even latter-day dancehall, the book compiles valuable information for anyone wanting to set the record straight while recognizing women who paved the way for individuals such as Voice TV winner Tessanne Chin and others competing in international contests.

“These are the never-before-told stories of the women who tried and persevered and made it, no matter what their struggle,” Augustyn said.

Enhanced by photos and one-on-one interviews with the women, Augustyn’s “Songbirds” provide the first comprehensive discography of trailblazing women that sacrificed family, home and reputation and in the process “changed the course of music all over the world.”

Augustyn’s previous contribution to documenting Jamaica’s music history include three previous books – “Ska: An Oral History,” (2010) “Don Drummond: The Genius and Tragedy of the World’s Greatest Trombonist” (2013) and “Ska: The Rhythm of Liberation (2013).

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