When people hear the words ‘child star,’ they generally think of American celebrities such as Michael Jackson, but Jamaica has produced its own share of pint-sized stars over the years. In honour of Child Month 2014, we bring you this list of Jamaican child stars, who have managed to grow from success to success in their chosen fields. Bear in mind that UNICEF defines a ‘child’ as a person up to 18 years of age.
Alaine – Many older Jamaicans will remember Alaine as the little girl with the angelic voice from the popular 1990s Victoria Mutual Building Society ad, but she had actually made her debut a few years earlier in the movie Clara’s Heart, starring Whoopi Goldberg and Kathleen Quinlan. Following the VMBS ad, Alaine went on to host a show called ‘Vibrations’ on Jamaica Broadcasting Corporating (JBC) – now Television Jamaica (TVJ). She was also a part of the Folk Singers. After a stint in banking in the US, Alaine moved back to Jamaica in 2004 and made a huge splash with the hit single No Ordinary Love. Prior to that, she had written songs for a few American artists and sung hooks for Roc-A-Fella rapper (‘Live My Life’) and Def Jam artist Yeo (‘Music Inspired by Scarface’). Alaine has released a slew of hits, including Sacrifice, Heavenly, Rise in Love and You Are Me. She was recently announced as a new judge on the TVJ talent show Rising Stars.
Alia Atkinson – In her first swimming race at the tender age of three, little Alia Atkinson stopped in the middle of the pool and began to cry. Today, that incident serves as a source of inspiration for the swimmer who just missed out on a medal in the 100m breaststroke at the London Olympic Games in 2012. Competing for the local Tornadoes Swim Club, Atkinson first made the CARIFTA team at age 11 and since that time making waves on the international scene has been a consistent feature of her presence at any meet. She even made the 2004 Olympic team at 15 years old, competing in the 50m breaststroke event. Atkinson is the current holder of a number of national records, including the 50m and 100m breaststroke. She had an impressive 2013, winning a number of medals in the eight-series FINA World Cup.
Yohan Blake – Before he became ‘The Beast,’ young Yohan Blake’s speed was discovered while playing cricket at St Jago High School and was encouraged to turn to the track. He still harbours dreams of playing for the West Indies one day, but he is currently enjoying his success as the second fastest man alive, behind compatriot Usain Bolt. Blake became the youngest person to break the 10-second barrier in the 100m sprints at the age of 19, but before that, he lit up the National Stadium track at the ISSA Boys and Girls Champs and set the national record of 10.11 seconds at the 2007 CARIFTA Games in the Turks and Caicos Islands. Since those days, he has gone on to win a gold medal at the 2011 World Championships in Daegu, South Korea, a silver medal in the 200m and 4x100m relay gold at the 2012 London Olympics.
Usain Bolt – Like Blake, Usain Bolt was encouraged to turn to the track after his speedy approach to the wicket was noticed by his cricket coach at William Knibb Memorial High School in Trelawny. Bolt won his first Champs medal in 2001, taking the 200m, taking silver in 22.04 seconds. Bolt would have to learn to take his talent seriously in that year and it was not a moment too soon as the World Junior Championships was held in Kingston in 2002. There, the gangly 15-year-old announced his presence to the world when he clocked 20.61 seconds to take the 200m title, making him the youngest world junior gold medalist ever. Since then, winning championship medals and breaking world records has become a regular occurrence. Bolt stunned the world in 2008 at the Beijing Olympics when he clocked 9.69 seconds to shatter the previous world record in the 100m. He would repeat this feat in the 200m and again with his teammates in the 4x100m relay. He dramatically lowered his 100m and 200m records at the World Champs in Berlin the very next year, to 9.58 and 19.19 seconds, respectively. Outside of his shocking disqualification in the 100m finals in Daegu (won by compatriot Blake), Bolt has not lost a race at a major world event since 2008. He is one of two Jamaicans amongst the only eight athletes to have won world championships at all levels (youth, junior and senior) of competition.
Dennis Brown – Brown cut his first hit single, No Man Is An Island for Clement “Sir Coxsone’ Dodd at the age of 10. Over the next 32 years, he would become one of the most prolific artistes the world has ever seen, releasing some 84 studio albums, seven live productions and countless singles. He started his career as a nine-year old singer out of Chocomo Lawn in West Kingston, performing with Byron Lee and the Dragonaires in the mid-60s, appearing on most of Lee’s promotions standing on a number of beer boxes to be seen by the audience because of his tiny stature. He received the moniker ‘Crown Prince of Reggae’ from none other than Bob Marley, who declared Brown his favourite singer. The Crown Prince’s many hits included Love and Hate, Here I Come, Money in My Pocket, Should I and If I Follow My Heart. Brown died of cardiac arrest in 1999 at the age of 42.
Veronica Campbell-Brown – Arguably Jamaica’s most decorated female sprinter, Veronica Campbell-Brown, or VCB as she is affectionately called, first rose to prominence at Boys and Girls Champs in the 90s. As a junior athlete, she not only distinguished herself at the regional level CARIFTA Games, but won the 100m and 200m sprint double at the inaugural IAAF World Youth Championships in Bydgoszcz, Poland in 1999. She won her first Olympic medal at 18, as part of the 4x100m relay team at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games. VCB won her first Olympic gold at the 2004 games in Athens, claiming the 200m title. She won her first World Championship title in the 100m at the 2007 event in Osaka, Japan. She is the other Jamaican to have won world championships at all levels (youth, junior and senior) of competition.
Jimmy Cliff – Singer, musician, actor and all-around global superstar Jimmy Cliff began his illustrious career while in high school by entering a number of local talent contests. By the time he was 14, Cliff had released several hit singles, including Hurricane Hattie, his first bug song. At 16 years old, he represented Jamaica at the 1964/1965 New York World’s Fair. He was soon snapped up by Island Records and moved to the United Kingdom to continue his career. Cliff’s star shone even brighter when he starred in Perry Henzell’s critically acclaimed hit The Harder They Come. He also sings four songs on the hit soundtrack. Cliff, who has released more than 30 albums, has also won two Grammy awards and became the second Jamaican to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, behind Bob Marley.
Christopher ‘Johnny’ Daley – Although he is carved out a successful career in film, television and radio broadcasting, theatre and comedy, Christopher Daley will always be ‘Johnny’ to many Jamaicans who watched him grow up on the early 90s television series Lime Tree Lane. His path to stardom began in 1988 when at age nine, the Half Way Tree Primary School student placed first in the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission festival, which also won him a scholarship to the Edna Manley College’s summer drama programme. There, he met Melita Samuels, who wrote the weekly television series. The rest was history. Last November, Daley marked 25 years in the entertainment business. In addition to his own exploits, Daley has also opened doors for others through his ‘Comedy Buss’ series, which aired on TVJ for two years.
Beenie Man – “Me a chat microphone from about ’79 – from Lee’s Unlimited an’ all Volcano time.” Beenie Man, as Moses Davis is more widely known, is a childhood nickname gained because of his slight stature. Back in his early days, he could hardly be seen behind the amplifiers on the sound system stage, but Beenie Man was certainly a star in the making. However, he would have to overcome some hurdles to get there, including a poor childhood and a poor decision – in 1991, the young DJ was booed at the National Stadium for singing an inappropriate song at a concert to honour Nelson Mandela. Despite this rough initiation, he signed a deal with Island Records in 1994 and released the album Blessed. Today, Beenie Man is celebrating almost 35 years in the industry, a career that has seen him win a Grammy and top the charts many times. His hits include Who Am I (Sim Simma), his first crossover hit, Nuff Gal, Romie, Foundation, Bad Mind is Active, and many more.
Nadine Sutherland – Eleven-year-old Sutherland burst unto the scene in 1979, besting Yellowman and Paul Blake (who later became the leader of the Bloodfire Posse) in the first Tastee Talent Contest. Recording a song was part of her prize for winning the competition, and her hit single, Starvation on the Land, was produced by none other than Bob Marley. In fact, her signed the pre-teen to his Tuff Gong label. Unfortunately, he died two years later and the young singer’s career floundered. Sutherland roared back to life in 1993 with the hit ‘Action’ featuring Terror Fabulous, which reached number 43 on the Billboard Hot 100. She rode another wave of fame as a judge on popular local talent show Rising Stars from 2003 to 2011. Her 2007 album Call My Name was a hit in Jamaica and on reggae charts in Florida and New York, and was nominated for two awards at the 21st Canadian Reggae Music Awards (CRMA) in 2008, where she received a special Merit Award for her contribution to reggae music.
Junior Tucker – Leslie ‘Junior’ Tucker was born in Trench Town, arguably the birthplace of Jamaica’s music. The child prodigy, who came from a family of singers, was even nicknamed the Jamaican Michael Jackson because of his extraordinary talent. In fact, some of Jackson’s early recordings became a staple in Tucker’s repertoire in his early years. His local and international hits include cover versions of Rod Stewart’s Some Guys Have All The Luck, New Edition’s Mr Telephone Man, Benny Mardones’ Into the Night, which he re-titled 16 and his how songs Don’t Test and Love of a Lifetime. Tucker held several international recording contracts over the course of his career, with the likes of Island, Geffen and Virgin Records and toured places like Japan, Mexico, the United Kingdom, the United States and most of the Caribbean islands. However, in 1997, he became a Christian and is now a full-time music minister in Florida. He has released three gospel albums: Brand New, Ready For The Rapture and Man of God.
QQ – Despite the maturity of his current lyrics, it’s hard for many dancehall fans to acknowledge the fact that QQ, born Kareem Dawkins, has grown up. Despite his best efforts, QQ is often looked at as the 10-year-old child who broke onto the music scene with Poverty almost a decade ago. His other hits include Stookie, Mumsie, Skip to My Lou and Tek it to Dem. The now 19-year-old artiste also took a break from the industry to pursue his education and walked away from Calabar High School with seven Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) subjects, including two distinctions. Despite the challenges, he is currently enjoying success with his current singles One Drop and Ghetto Gal.
Ziggy Marley and the Melody Makers – David ‘Ziggy’ Marley, eldest of the Marley offspring, doesn’t consider himself a child star, although his career began in 1979, when the 11-year-old, along with siblings Cedella, Stephen and Sharon made their recording debut with their father on the single Children Playing in the Streets. The group became known as the Melody Makers and played occasionally for several years, eventually coming into its own after their father’s death in 1981. The Melody Makers have released 14 albums over the years and won back to back Grammy awards in 1988 and 1989 for Conscious Party and One Bright Day. Ziggy has since graduated to a successful solo career; Stephen is a Grammy-winning producer and artiste in his own right; Cedella is a designer, author and the CEO of the Marley family label, Tuff Gong; Sharon is an educator and curator of the Bob Marley Museum.