Millie Jackson is a great singer. That’s a fact, and there is ample evidence to support it. The fact that she is also well known for the decidedly not PG-rated spoken passages that appear in some of her songs is what it is, but over a career that has included six gold albums, Jackson has never been afraid to speak her mind.
Jackson was born into a sharecropper family in Georgia. When her mother died, she moved to Newark, NJ with her father, and then to Brooklyn. As she got older, she got work as a model for magazines like Sepia and JIVE. In 1964, friends dared her to enter a singing contest at a Harlem nightclub. She did, and she won. A legendary singing career was born on that stage.
Originally Jackson was signed to MGM Records in 1970, but it wasn’t until after she moved on to Spring Records that she began to find success. There she began to work with producer Raeford Gerald, and their first collaboration, “A Child of God (It’s Hard to Believe),” reached #22 on the R&B chart in 1971. A year later Jackson’s next single, “Ask Me What You Want,” did even better, reaching the R&B Top Ten, and crossing over to #27 on the Pop chart. The next single was “A Man, a Sweet Man,” and it was a #7 R&B hit. All of the early hits were co-written by Jackson.
Her biggest success was still ahead of her. “Hurts So Good” was Jackson’s third Top 10 R&B single, and also reached #24 on the Pop chart. The song was written by Phillip Mitchell and originally recorded in Muscle Shoals by Katie Love and the Four Shades of Black in 1971. But it was Jackson’s 1973 version, boosted by its appearance in the film Cleopatra Jones, that had the greatest success.
It was on the 1974 album Caught Up that Jackson’s explicit raps first appeared. The album was recorded in Muscle Shoals with producer Brad Shapiro, and featured Jackson’s cover of Luther Ingram’s “(If Loving You is Wrong) I Don’t Want to Be Right.” Her version of the song received two Grammy nominations.
The next ten years saw a succession of hit singles and albums for Jackson. Among the singles were her covers of Merle Haggard’s “If You’re Not Back in Love by Monday,” and Boney M’s “Never Change Lovers in the Middle of the Night.”
Jackson’s stellar career with Spring Records came to an end in 1984 when the label folded. She signed with Jive Records however, and while there she had hits with singles like “Hot! Wild! Unrestricted! Crazy Love,” and “Love Is a Dangerous Game.” Perhaps it’s also worth mentioning that some of Jackson’s more audacious album covers from that era have been the objects of much online derision over the years.
Jackson had a successful radio show for 13 years, and these days has her own record label, Weird Wreckuds. As you might imagine, her most recent album, 2001’s Not For Church Folk is, well, not for church folk. The fact that one of the album’s singles is entitled “Butt-A-Cize” might give you the idea.
Millie Jackson was inducted into the Official Rhythm and Blues Music Hall of Fame in 2012.