This week, I want to talk about women in reggae and in particular the I Three’s who, in my opinion, haven’t gotten their far share of airplay and recognition – then or now. Isn’t it funny how everything reggae seems to stem solely from Bob’s influence on the genre? I mean don’t get me wrong – I love Bob! I just recognise that there are others who have had as much contribution to the growth of the genre … yeah?
The other day, the hubster was looking for videos online that showed the inspiration for many of the WoW class dance moves. When we got to the Tauren Female dance, the video showed Marcia Griffiths’s version. I can’t tell you how happy I was. Mostly because no one really credits her with the song or the moves. (Imagine my surprise to learn that not even she was the originator but that it was in fact Bunny Wailer of the Wailers who first wrote and recorded the song and dance back in 1976 .)
My mother has a soft spot for Marcia, though. When I told her I was going to be writing about the I-Threes this week, her response was “Oh? And I rather like Marcia Griffiths too, you know. I don’t think those girls get enough recognition. Overshadowed by Bob most likely.” Of all 3, Marcia might have been the most visible to me growing up – probably precisely because of Mom’s partiality. I think “Electric Boogie” helped her shoot into the international view (AllMusic.com agrees with me that it shot her into the US all-time charts ) – it’s still quite a popular song and line dance even today. I think it is a testament to how popular “Electric Boogie” is that my husband, who had no exposure to Reggae or the Jamaican culture before meeting me, knew about the song and the line-dance well enough to teach me how to dance it. (Yeah – I am not a big dancer, so him teaching me to dance this song isn’t all that far-fetched when you realise that I never bothered to learn in the first place because dancing. ugh)
According to AllMusic.com , all three of the I-Threes were solo artists before they were pinged to form the I-Threes. The story goes that Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer departed The Wailers for their own solo careers in the mid-1970s, and Rita pulled Marcia and Judy together to help flesh out the Bob Marley band sound for a recording and eventually a performance (opening for the Jackson 5 on tour in 1975).
Rita was successful in her own right before Bob. She was part of the lineup for the Soulettes before she married Bob (in fact, it was his mentoring The Soulettes that put them together in the first place) and for a time afterwards, she continued to record and perform with them . She is also said to have been important in pulling together the I-Threes after Tosh and Wailer departed. You might not know it, but during and after Bob’s death, Rita has continued to see success in her own music career. In fact, it hadn’t even hit me that two of her songs are songs I rather like myself. “He who feels it knows it” in 1981 and “Harambe” in 1988 were solo albums that netted her Billboard level popularity.
Judy Mowatt always struck me as the weird one. I have no idea where that impression came from. There isn’t anything about her that can be termed “weird” in any incarnation of the word. She is a beautiful woman with a beautiful voice. My mother and I recall that after Bob’s death, she started to sing gospel on the local circuit but I can’t find anything to back that up and AllMusic.com’s biography of her  stops in 1977 with her solo album “Black Woman” release (You can sample the album from that link too). The discography shows other albums after 1977, but none of them sound familiar to me.
All of the women have one thing in common: they are grossly under-valued by the musical industry. For instance, the AllMusic.com page for Mowatt’s “Black Woman” album states that while Rita and Marcia retain some of their pre-Bob status (probably because of their association with Bob), Mowatt has pretty much disappeared off the scene. And all three are obscured as women in reggae by others. Dancehall has taken over the visibility of reggae for much of the local scene and overseas most people still cling to Bob and his progeny as reggae icons. It’s sad, for instance, that Damian ‘Jr Gong’ Marley – as talented as he is and as enjoyable as his music is – has surpassed these women in acclaim – he is, after all, the next generation.
Still, the I-Threes did not only sing for Bob. I found a video on YouTube.com that is just them … and the sound is … oh… so… good.