Windrush teenager ended up lead singer of a band selling more records than ABBA
jeanniejeanniejeannie.co.uk BLOG Monday 11th July 2022
THOUGHT FOR THE DAY
‘I moved to London as a Windrush teenager and ended up lead singer of a band that sold more records than ABBA’
You only need to Google “Rasputin TikTok” to see what an incredible year it’s been for Boney M. The disco and funk group’s hit single sparked a dance craze which has seen the song used over 3.2 million times on the platform, bringing the 1970s band back with a bang for a surprising set of listeners – Gen-Z.
But fame always came as a surprise to Liz Mitchell, lead singer of the group until it disbanded in 1986 – and TikTok stardom was no exception. “I was thrilled to hear about the Rasputin TikTok challenge that led to so many millions of people sharing videos of them dancing to it,” said Liz, who added, “although I had to ask my children to explain what TikTok is.”
Liz Mitchell is not what you might expect of a global superstar. Charming, modest, and down-to-earth, the 69-year-old singer moved to North-West London from Jamaica, aged just 11, having not met her parents since she was a baby. Being separated from their families like this was a familiar story for many of the Windrush Generation like her, explained Liz.
“Those of us who did get to come to join our parents had to deal with a cultural shock, in every way. We were strangers to the land, and strangers to our families,” said Liz. Remembering the day she flew into Heathrow Airport, in 1963, she said, “England was so different, I was intimidated by so many things.”
Liz remembers the “drizzly, foggy” weather that day, and being put on a bus with a stewardess to Waterloo station to meet her family. “I saw my parents for the first time and they looked so smart,” said Liz. She moved straight into their house, with her three younger siblings who were born in the UK. “I think I was looking at them big-eyed for quite a while, studying them – like they were studying me I suppose!” she laughed.
Growing up in Harlesden as a teenager, going to school in Kensal Rise, Liz said none of the white kids reached out to students like her, but some of the black girls took her under their wing. She joined a clique of 10 girls, who became her first live audience when she launched her singing career in the school cloakroom.
“We created a little four-girl group,” laughed Liz, adding, “chanteliers or something like that. I have no clue what the name really was.” The girls would get properly made up and belt out pop songs to each other. All the performing paid off a few years later, in 1970, when Liz scored herself a role in the musical Hair in Germany, alongside Donna Summer.
Liz had her big break in 1976, joining record producer Frank Farian’s new music project which turned into Boney M.
It was shortly after this that she had her big break, when Frank Farian spotted her in a show in 1976, and scouted her for his new music project. “I told him I really was not interested,” said Liz, “as far as I was concerned I was finished with the madness of Showbiz.”
But Frank was persuasive, asking Liz to try ‘one year’ on the project. “And that’s the story of Boney M right there,” said Liz. That same summer the group of four, which also included Marcia Barrett, Maizie Williams and Bobby Farrell, had their first huge hit, “Daddy Cool.” The decade that followed saw Boney M rise to become a global sensation, with hit after hit, including Daddy Cool, Ma Baker, Mary’s Boy Child – Oh My Lord, Rivers of Babylon, and, of course, Rasputin.
Despite their success the world of Showbiz was never exactly comfortable for Liz, who admitted she could never wait to get back to the “good energy of good home cooking, soul food, things that keep you whole” in Harlesden. “Harlesden is still this place where I grew up, in my heart,” she said. “We were dead in the centre of all these communities that became the centre of my life.”
Despite Liz Mitchell’s global success, she says Harlesden where she grew up remained the centre of her life.
Although Liz found the Showbiz lifestyle “difficult,” she is adamant that “if you love to sing, then you love to sing. And if you love to sing I don’t think it really matters if you’re a superstar, as long as you get to sing.” She laughed: “The success was more for me to be able to say to my mum and dad I’m not a failure because we had some big hits.”
Big hits is an understatement – Boney M sang two of the top 12 bestselling singles of all time, way ahead of ABBA’s Dancing Queen, with Liz lead vocalist on both. But Liz thinks Boney M’s success often gets “swept under the rug” because of who they are. “Boney M were the most successful black artists of the UK of all time, but aren’t necessarily celebrated,” she said.
Liz feels like she has to prove that “the Windrush generation is not just a waste of time in this country.” It’s a constant battle to be recognised, appreciated and celebrated, but Liz says music gets her through. “Music for me is healing,” she explained. “It doesn’t matter what is going on in your life, if you have music and food and a roof over your head you’re going to be ok.”
After her packed diary of international solo shows was cancelled during Covid, Liz is now making up for lost time. She just got back from touring Lithuania, Norway and Finland, and is set to headline Henley next week.
TOP TWENTY-SIX OF THE DAY
TOP 26 BONEY M TRACKS
- “Rivers of Babylon”
- “Brown Girl in the Ring”
- “Ma Baker”
- “He Was a Steppenwolf”
- “Daddy Cool”
- “Painter Man”
- “Motherless Child”
- “Brown Girl in the Ring”
- “No Woman, No Cry” (
- “Mary’s Boy Child/Oh My Lord”
- “Hooray! Hooray! It’s a Holi-Holiday”
- “Never Change Lovers in the Middle of the Night”
- “Still I’m Sad”
- “Nightflight to Venus”
- “Heart of Gold”
- “Gotta Go Home”
- “Dancing in the Streets”
- “He Was a Steppenwolf”
- “I’m Born Again”
- “My Friend Jack”
- “Children of Paradise”
- “We Kill the World (Don’t Kill The World)”
BONEY M had 21 UK Top 75 entries
REMEMBER: The most wasted of all days is one without laughter.
– Nicolas Chamfort
INSPIRATIONAL QUOTE FOR THE DAY
“The hard days are what make you stronger.” ―Aly Raisman
Happiness is…listening to a Boney M playlist.
GRANDAD’S ONE LINER JOKE OF THE DAY
“You have to be 100% behind someone before you can stab them in the back.” – Ricky Gervaise.
Love is…the past, the present and the future.
PEARLS OF WISDOM
Teach your own children how to budget from an early age
A time for Brown Girl In The Ring…A time for Rivers of Babylon.
©2022 Phil M Robinson