(Jamaica Observer) Singer Dawn Penn may have the most resilient career in reggae history. Her seminal hit You Don’t Love Me (No, No, No) was recorded in 1968, with a remixed version making international charts 25 years later.
Penn was exposed to a new generation of fans last Sunday when she performed at the BET Awards in Los Angeles.
Along with Chaka Demus and Pliers, Beenie Man, and Elephant Man, she worked a dancehall/reggae segment which opened with her classic song.
Speaking with the Sunday Observer on Friday, Penn, who lives in the United Kingdom, was still on cloud nine.
“It was (selectors) Bobby Konders and Jabba who contacted me to be a part of their showcase on the BET Awards. The response was overwhelming,” she said.
Penn is not surprised at You Don’t Love Me’s staying power.
“Not at all, when you are blessed, you are blessed. Persons of all ages listen to my music and every 10 years a new set of people embrace my work.”
Now in her mid-60s, Penn says she first recorded You Don’t Love Me in 1966. A cover of American soul singer Willie Cobbs’ song of the same name, it was produced by Clement ‘Coxson’ Dodd for his Studio One label.
“During the original recording at Studio One with Jackie Mittoo and Tommy McCook and the Skatalites, there was an error in the chord/progression and instead of doing it all over, they finalised the recording,” Penn recalled. “I re-recorded the song again in 1968.”
She says producer Lloyd ‘King Jammys’ James later did a version with Dennis Brown and there was also a Ken Boothe take.
In 1991, Penn recorded another version of You Don’t Love Me for producers Steely and Clevie’s rock steady tribute album for the American independent company Heartbeat Records.
Picked up two years later by Big Beat/Atlantic Records, it became a strong seller in the United States, Europe and Asia.
It was a career-defining period for Penn who signed with Atlantic Records in 1993. Her tenure with the label saw the release of a Grammy- nominated album, No, No, No.
“My musical career didn’t start until 1994. I would say the highlight was when I got signed to Atlantic and when I got nominated for a Grammy,” says Penn.
Born to a father from Tortola and Jamaican mother, the Kingston-born Penn also recorded under the name Suzette when she started out in the 1960s.
“I sang as Suzette because when I was studying French at St Hugh’s High School, I was told that Suzette was French for Dawn. When I entered the pop section of the Jamaica Festival competition, Tyrone Evans of the Paragons told me that I should sing as Connie McGann because Dawn Penn didn’t sound professional,” she said.
Penn recorded songs for several producers including To Sir With Love (Byron Lee), Don’t Sleep in The Subway, Here’s the Key (Prince Buster) and When I’m Gonna be Free (Derrick Morgan).
She also did It Must Be Him and Too Much Hurt, both produced by Boris Gardiner.
You Don’t Love Me, however, remains her crowning glory. She says its endurance keeps her active.
“I am still doing shows and touring across the world as well as putting out music. I’m very busy.”