Boney M. Biography
Boney M. was a German vocal group created by German record producer Frank Farian. Originally based in West Germany, the four original members of the group’s official line-up were Liz Mitchell and Marcia Barrett from Jamaica, Maizie Williams from Montserrat and Bobby Farrell from Aruba. The group was formed in 1976 and achieved popularity during the disco era of the late 1970s. Since the 1980s, various line-ups of the band have performed with different personnel.
Boney M. Music Career
In December 1974, German singer-songwriter Frank Farian,real name Franz Reuther,recorded the dance track “Baby Do You Wanna Bump” . Farian sang the repeated line “Do you do you wanna bump?” in a deep voice (entirely studio created) as well as performing the high falsetto chorus. When the record was released as a single, it was credited to “Boney M.”, a pseudonym Farian had created for himself after watching the Australian detective show Boney. He said:
I turned on the TV one day and it was the end of a detective series. I just caught the credits and it said Boney. Nice name, I thought – Boney, Boney, Boney… Boney M. Boney, Boney, Boney M. Nice sound. Simple.
After a slow start, the song became a hit in the Netherlands and Belgium. It was then that Farian decided to hire performers to ‘front’ the group for TV performances. Farian found Maizie Williams (originally from Montserrat) who brought in Bobby Farrell, a male exotic dancer from Aruba. Singer Marcia Barrett (also from Jamaica) joined the group, who brought in Liz Mitchell, former member of the Les Humphries Singers and Boney M was finalised.
Take the Heat off Me, Boney M.’s first album, was released in 1976. It contained tracks that Marcia Barrett had already recorded with Farian, including the title track and “Lovin’ or Leavin'”, both of which were previously recorded in German by another Farian act, Gilla. As Maizie Williams’ voice wasn’t considered suitable for recording purposes by Farian, and a try-out with Bobby Farrell performing “No Woman No Cry” didn’t work, Farian decided to use only Liz Mitchell and Marcia Barrett along with his own studio-enhanced voice to create the Boney M. sound.
The album’s commercial performance was initially lukewarm. However, the group rigorously toured discos, clubs and even country fairs to earn a reputation for themselves. The group’s big break came when, at the end of summer 1976, German television producer Michael ‘Mike’ Leckebusch (of Radio Bremen) requested the group for his show Musikladen. Boney M. appeared on the live music show on 18 September 1976, after 10 pm and in their daring stage costumes, where they performed the song “Daddy Cool”. The song quickly went to no.1 in Germany, with the album following the success of the single. Another single, “Sunny” (a cover of the 1966 Bobby Hebb song) gave the group their second no.1 hit. The group’s popularity had also grown throughout Europe, with “Daddy Cool” reaching no.1 in Switzerland, Sweden, Norway, and Austria. Both singles were also Top 10 hits in the UK, which would become one of their biggest markets.
Boney M. released their second album, Love for Sale, in the year 1977, which contained the hits “Ma Baker” and “Belfast”. The group embarked on their first major concert tours with a live band of musicians called ‘The Black Beauty Circus’ (given their name after Maizie Williams’ first band, ‘Black Beautiful People’). Love for Sale was certified Gold a year after its release in the UK. Both singles from the album reached no.1 in Germany and the UK Top 10.
1978 was their biggest year as they released a new double A-sided single, “Rivers of Babylon/Brown Girl in the Ring”, which became a massive hit all over Europe, reaching No. 1 in several countries as well as becoming one of the biggest selling singles of all time in the UK. It also became their most successful single in the United States, peaking at No. 30 on the U.S. pop singles chart. Following this came their biggest-selling album, Nightflight to Venus, which spawned further hit singles with “Rasputin” and “Painter Man”. Continuing with their success, they released “Mary’s Boy Child – Oh My Lord”, which was the 1978 Christmas number one single in the United Kingdom and became another of the biggest selling singles of all time there. Also during 1978, Boney M. made a much publicized promotional visit to the Soviet Union, one of the very few Western acts along with Elton John to do so, although tracks like “Rasputin” were not released in the Soviet Union due to their lyrics.
Boney M. released a brand new single, “Hooray! Hooray! It’s a Holi-Holiday”, in 1979 which became another Top 10 hit across Europe. Later in the year they released their fourth album, Oceans of Fantasy, containing two hit singles – “Gotta Go Home”/”El Lute” and “I’m Born Again”/”Bahama Mama”. The album also included a “Lead” and “Backing Vocals” credit for the first time. Oceans of Fantasy reached no.1 in the UK and was certified Platinum, though their run of Top 10 singles had now ended with “Gotta Go Home” peaking at no.12 and “I’m Born Again” peaking at 35.
Boney M. released a greatest hits album, The Magic of Boney M. in 1980 – 20 Golden Hits, which also contained two new songs, “My Friend Jack” and “I See a Boat on the River”. It made the No. 1 spot in the UK, reaching Gold status within six weeks of release, though it was their last big-selling album in the UK. Boney M.’s fifth album had been scheduled for release in November 1980 but the recording sessions dragged on all through 1981. When Boonoonoonoos was finally released by the end of that year, Bobby Farrell was fired from the group due to his unreliability. While still a healthy seller in continental Europe, “Boonoonoonoos” failed to crack the UK Top 100 after three consecutive No. 1 albums, and Farrell’s departure left the group unable to promote it. Following this, the group released a Christmas Album.
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In 1982, Reggie Tsiboe was hired to replace Farrell as the new male member of Boney M. but the singles “The Carnival Is Over” and “Jambo” fared poorly, and the group’s seventh album Ten Thousand Lightyears, issued in 1984, marked another commercial low point peaking at #23 in the German album charts. The group, however, returned to the German Top 20 in the autumn of 1984 with “Kalimba de Luna” (a Top 10 hit in France) and “Happy Song”, the latter seeing Bobby Farrell return to the group. Both songs were carbon-copies of the original Italian hits by Tony Esposito and Baby’s Gang respectively.
Farian clearly began losing interest in the group, by 1985 , and their final and eighth studio album Eye Dance was widely regarded as uninspired and disappointing. After celebrating Boney M.’s 10th anniversary in early 1986, the group officially disbanded after the release of the commercially unsuccessful single ‘Young, Free and Single’ .
From this point, different versions of the group were formed by members, some with cooperation of Farian, others without . In the first half of 1987 one version began touring with Marilyn Scharbaai taking Liz Mitchell’s place. Mitchell returned for a second leg of the tour late 1987, and Marcia Barrett soon left the band. At the same time, Bobby Farrell had set up a deal for a new Boney M. album to be recorded without Farian in Belgium. When Farrell failed to show up for either recording or tour, and Maizie Williams had never sung on record, the album ended up being released as Liz Mitchell’s first solo album No One Will Force You. Mitchell and Williams completed a tour during 1987–88, adding singer Celena Duncan and Ron Gale as replacements for Barrett and Farrell. Carol Grey later replaced Celena Duncan and Curt De Daran later replaced Ron Gale.
The classic Boney M. line-up in October 1988, reunited without producer Frank Farian for the album Greatest Hits of All Times – Remix ’88 but tensions ran high between the members, and Liz Mitchell left in the spring of 1989 to be replaced by Madeleine Davis. While Mitchell promoted her solo album, the group recorded the single “Everybody Wants to Dance Like Josephine Baker”, without Farian’s knowledge or approval. Threatened with legal action by the producer over the use of the Boney M. name, the single was subsequently withdrawn and Farian issued “Stories” with his own new Boney M. line-up featuring Liz Mitchell, Reggie Tsiboe and two new members, Sharon Stevens and Patty Onoyewenjo, “Stories” peaked at #11 in the Swiss charts. A second remix album Greatest Hits of All Times – Remix ’89 – Volume II was released but fared poorly.
Boney M. featuring Marcia Barrett made a live appearance at the 37th International Film Festival of India (IFFI), which took place on 23 November 2006 in Panaji, the state capital of Goa, India. The group is also popular in the Vietnamese diaspora, and was featured in Thuy Nga music productions.
In the UK, a new album of their greatest hits, entitled The Magic of Boney M. was released via BMG on 27 November 2006. Special additions to this release were a Mousse T. remix of “Sunny” and a brand new song from 2006, featuring Liz Mitchell, entitled “A Moment of Love”. On 10 April 2007, Boney M.’s first four albums were reissued on compact disc with bonus tracks, this time also in the United States (the first time these were available to the U.S. music market since their original releases in the 1970s).
Boney M.’s last four original albums, Boonoonoonoos, Ten Thousand Lightyears, Kalimba de Luna – 16 Happy Songs and Eye Dance were reissued on compact disc in September 2007, in Europe and the United States, all including bonus tracks. A new Christmas compilation was scheduled for release as well as the DVD Fantastic Boney M. – On Stage in November 2007, and on the Road featuring a live performance recorded in Vienna on 1 November 1977 (the DVD cover erroneously states it to be a live show from Hamburg), and a film from the band’s 1981 visit to Jamaica.
In May 2007, Bobby Farrell’s Boney M. performed a concert at the Amphi in Ra’anana, Israel . On 28 June 2007 Boney M. featuring Matthew Felsenfeld and Liz Mitchell performed at the “Oktiabrsky” concert hall in St. Petersburg, Russia. In September 2007, Maizie Williams’ Boney M. line-up performed live at the Royal Albert Hall, UK, to raise awareness of HIV/AIDS in Africa, performing her own renditions of “Brown Girl in the Ring” and “Hooray! Hooray! It’s a Holi-Holiday”.
Maizie Williams headlined a Boney M. performance at Ramallah’s Cultural Palace, in July the year 2010, in the West Bank, as part of the Palestine International Festival. The band played “Daddy Cool”, “Ma Baker” and “Brown Girl in the Ring”, but refrained from playing “Rivers of Babylon”, rumored to be at the event organizers’ request because of its description of the Jewish yearning for Zion.
Bobby Farrell died at the age of 61 from heart failure on December 30th, 2010. His agent said Farrell was complaining of breathing problems after performing with his band the evening before. Farrell lived in Amsterdam until his death. The singer was found dead in a hotel room in Saint Petersburg, Russia, where he had been performing. It was announced in February 2014 that Maizie Williams’ line-up of Boney M. would be touring Australia in June. They sang at Guilfest, Guildford, UK on 20 July, and Watchet Live music festival UK, on 24 August.
Farian released Diamonds, a 3CD box celebrating the 40th anniversary of Boney M in March 2015. It contained remastered versions of the original hit singles or of previously unreleased versions, a remix disc and the new digital single Song of Joy featuring Liz Mitchell. A major DVD set was also released. They performed at Sligo’s Summer Festival on 7 August 2015. In February 2017, they also performed at the closing ceremony of Patras Carnival in Patras, Greece.
Boney M. Members
- Liz Mitchell – lead and backing vocals (1976–1986, 1987–1989, 1989, 1992–1994, 2016–current)
- Marcia Barrett – lead and backing vocals (1975–1986, 1987, 1988–1989)
- Maizie Williams – dancer, live vocals (1975–1986, 1987–1989, 2012)
- Bobby Farrell – dancer, rap, live vocals (1975–81, 1984–1986, 1987, 1988–1989; died 2010)
- Reggie Tsiboe – lead and backing vocals (1982–1986, 1989)
- Sheyla Bonnick (1975)
- Claudja Barry – lead and backing vocals (1975–1976)
- Nathalie – lead and backing vocals (1975)
- Marilyn Scharbaai (Carrilho) – lead and backing vocals (1987)
- Celena Duncan – lead and backing vocals (1987–1988)
- Curt De Daran – dancer, rap, live vocals (1987–1988, 1992–1994)
- Madeleine Davis – lead and backing vocals (1989)
- Sharon Stevens – lead and backing vocals (1989)
- Patty Onoyewenjo – lead and backing vocals (1989)
- Carol Grey – lead and backing vocals (1992–1994)
- Bronwen Collins – Bassoon (1984–1994)
- Patricia Lorna Foster – lead and backing vocals (1992-1994)
- Tony Ashcroft – dancer, rap, live vocals (1994)
- Peter Jarrette – lead and backing vocals (2012)
- Geoffrey Sung – dancer, rap, live vocals (2012)
- Samantha Gareth – lead and backing vocals (2012)
- Eileen Quintanilla – lead and backing vocals (2012)
- Patricia Dick – lead and backing vocals (2016–current)
- Yvonne Michèle – lead and backing vocals (2012–current)
Boney M. Songs
- Rivers of Babylon
- Daddy Cool
- Ma Baker
- Brown Girl in the Ring
- Hooray! Hooray! It’s a Holi-Holiday
- Mary’s Boy Child / Oh My Lord
- I See a Boat on the River
- Gotta Go Home
- Kalimba De Luna
- Little Drummer Boy
- El Lute
- Happy Song
- Painter Man
- Feliz Navidad
- Somewhere in the World
- No Woman No Cry
- Ribbons of Blue
- Children of Paradise
- Baby Do You Wanna Bump
- Young Free and Single
- Zion’s Daughter
- I’m Born Again
- My Cherie Amour
- When a Child Is Born
- Jambo – Hakuna Matata
- Still I’m Sad
- Going Back West
Boney M. Albums
- Nightflight to Venus
- Christmas Album
- Love for Sale
- Take the Heat off Me
- Oceans of Fantasy
- Ten Thousand Lightyears
- Eye Dance
- Gold – 20 Super Hits
- The Best of Boney M.
- The Magic of Boney M.: 20 Golden Hits
- The Magic of Boney M.
- The Greatest Hits
- The 20 Greatest Christmas Songs
- Diamonds (40th Anniversary Edition)
- 20th Century Hits
- The Complete Collection
- Their Most Beautiful Ballads
- Let It All Be Music – The Party Album
- The Best of 10 Years
- Best in Spain
- Kalimba de Luna – 16 Happy Songs
- Original Album Classics
- The Collection
- More Gold – 20 Super Hits Vol. II
- Fantastic Boney M.
- Christmas Time
- The Complete Boney M.
- Ma Baker
- Ultimate Boney M. – Long Versions & Rarities, Volume 2
- Ultimate Boney M. – Long Versions & Rarities, Volume 3
- Children of Paradise – The Greatest Hits of Boney M. – Vol. 2
- 25 Jaar Na Daddy Cool
- Barbra Streisand – Boney M. goes Club
- Greatest Hits of All Times – Remix ’88
- The Most Beautiful Christmas Songs of the World
- Hit Collection
- Christmas with Boney M.
- Worldmusic for Christmas
- Daddy Cool – Star Collection
- Ultimate Boney M. – Long Versions & Rarities, Volume 1
- Ultimate 2.0
- The Essential Boney M.
- Rivers of Babylon (A Best of Collection)
- Greatest Hits of All Times – Remix ’89 – Volume II