Mildred “Millie” Virginia Jackson, the “Mother of Hip Hop,” was born on July 15, 1944, in Thomson, Georgia. She is an R&B singer, playwright, model, and lyricist. Her parents’ names are not known to the general public. When she was two years old, her mother died in a fire. In 1953, Jackson and her brother, David White, were sent to live with her mother’s family in Thomson by their father.
Her father moved her to Hoboken, New Jersey, when she was 14 years old, because he was concerned that her young daughter would be influenced by the streets.
Jackson was introduced to the world of singing and performing by chance in 1964, when he was 20 years old and visiting the Palm Café, a popular nightclub in Harlem, New York. She challenged a female singer of a blues song. “Is that the best you can do?” Jackson asked. She was invited on stage and began singing “Don’t Play It Anymore” by Ben E. King.
Jackson was hired immediately by the owner of the Palm Café and began performing professionally in Harlem and Brooklyn within a few weeks. She also began her modeling career by appearing in Sepia and Jive magazines.
Jackson became a single mother to her daughter, Keisha, in 1966. Jackson’s first single, “A Child of God,” was released in 1971, with clever, raunchy lyrics. It reached number 22 on the R&B charts. She married bassist Victor Davis shortly after the song’s success, but they divorced eight months later. Both “Ask Me What You Want” and “My Man, A Sweet Man” became R&B Top Ten singles the following year, 1972. The latter song peaked at number seven and stayed on the charts for ten weeks.
Caught Up, a musical essay about cheating from the perspectives of both the mistress and the wife, was released by Jackson in 1974. The album peaked at #4 and spent 21 weeks on the Billboard R&B Album Chart. The album’s most popular single, a remake of Luther Ingram’s “If Loving You Is Wrong, I Don’t Want to Be Right,” charted at #42 in 1975 and stayed there for seven weeks.
The song was nominated for “Best R&B Vocal Performance, Female” at the 17th Annual Grammy Awards that same year. Jackson gave birth to her son Jerroll Levert in 1977. She also had a hit with “It Hurts So Good,” which peaked at #3 on the R&B chart and #24 on the Billboard Hot 100 pop charts.
Jackson’s controversial style and lyrics remained popular with the devoted fan base she had cultivated over the years, and she occasionally had unusual crossover appeal. “If You’re Not Back in Love by Monday,” her 1986 single, peaked at #2 on the Billboard country charts and #5 on the R&B charts. In 1986, she released the single “Hot! Wild! Unrestricted!”
In 1991, Jackson released Young Man, Older Woman, an extended play that was a cross between a musical and an opera. It described the frequently denied deep romantic feelings shared by young men and older women. Her play of the same name later toured for four years, including a run at Washington, D.C.’s Howard Theatre in 2012.
Over the course of her career, Jackson released 28 albums that sold a total of 40 million copies, making her one of the most successful, if underappreciated, female artists of the twentieth century. That feat is even more impressive when you consider that most radio stations refused to play her music.