Miss Pat: An Iconic Record
By Ilvea Lezama
Descended from an East Indian father and a Chinese mother, Dorothy Patricia Williams was born in Kingston, Jamaica, on September 20, 1937. “I am Chinese but Jamaican first; my parents were happy to put us with other natives. We felt like we were one; we did not feel like we were any different. That’s why our slogan in Jamaica is “we are one.”
Her father named her Dorothy Patricia after a movie star he admired. As the oldest of two siblings, she knew early on in life that she had to be an example for them. Her hustle mentality started when she was very young. Her father worked arduously at a store, allowing her to get bulks of rubber bands and marbles for a cheaper rate.
“I used to sell them at school for lunch money because we were very poor. Fifty years ago, marbles and rubber bands were our toys. We did not have toys back then. Those were our toys.”
That’s how she got her first taste for entrepreneurship.
Her love for music started with the “clap-hand church.” It was called the “clap-hand church” because there was no actual building where Sunday’s service was held. But instead, Sundays’ service took place on a main road where people would “sing and shake their tambourines.” That became a weekly routine for Williams and her sister. That weekly routine became a foundation for what was to come.
She planned to become a nurse to help the ill like her idol Mother Theresa. However, while studying for her entrance exam to go to the University College Hospital of the West Indies in Jamaica, she met “a handsome young man by the name of Vincent.” Vincent was a driver for her grandparents’ bread van. With the characteristics of a typical “bad boy,” Vincent was known for skipping school and smoking marijuana. A type of young man no parent would want for their daughter. But she was instantly attracted to that bad boy persona.
After receiving her acceptance letter from University College, she packed all her stuff and moved to the campus. Being on campus meant she had no supervision from her parents. That gave her more time to see Vincent.
Her father saw Vincent for what he was – trouble. But she saw him as a handsome young man who would travel two hours by bike to visit her. “We were in love; I knew he was the one for me.”
A few months into her studies, Dorothy became pregnant and had to leave school when she could no longer hide her pregnancy. When her father found out, he was angry, and refused to talk to her. He was mad at the fact that she was repeating history. Her parents had gotten pregnant with her before marriage. And her father wanted something different for her.
In March of 1957, Vincent and Dorothy tied the knot. They moved in into a small rental apartment to settle down as a family. In no time, Gregory Chin was born, who unfortunately lived a short life due to an illness. Amid being heartbroken over her son’s sudden death, she knew she had to stay strong for the other little one she was already carrying. Christopher Chin was born later that year.
Vincent eventually stopped being the bread delivery man for her grandparents. Instead, he started working at a Jukebox company owned by Mr. Joseph Issa. Vincent was surrounded by music, and he loved it. Dorothy would travel with him around the island to service the jukeboxes and collect money. Watching peoples’ reactions while seeing him walk in holding the records was priceless.
The reggae culture had yet to start. “Jamaica was not identified for its music or culture, but Jamaica was only known as the pot island.” Most Jamaicans listened to American R&B, gospel and country-western singers like Elvis Presley and Sam Cooke. In the 50s, Jamaica only had one radio station, which mainly played foreign artists and little of local artists.
Dorothy came out with the idea of selling old records from Vincent’s jukebox job. Coming up with a name for their upcoming business wasn’t that difficult. Vincent wanted to call the record store “Randy’s Record Mart” after Randy Wood. Randy Wood was the owner of a Tennessee station that Vincent used to listen to. At that point, they had the records and the name of the business, but they were missing a crucial piece; a place to operate their business.
They found a small space inside a grocery store, and in 1959 Randy’s Record Mart opened its doors. Because the business was starting to pick up, Vincent kept his job with Issa at the Jukebox company while Dorothy ran Randy’s Record Mart alone. Eventually, they ended up moving Randy’s Record Mart to a more vibrant commercial district.
It was a small space inside a restaurant – a restaurant they ended up buying with the help of her father. There were some music producers already doing business in the area. The new location was a magnet for anyone in music, such as singers, producers, musicians and schoolboy DJs. The relocation bought a lot of business for them. The business started evolving within a year. By then, Vincent had left his job with the Jukebox company and worked full-time for his business.
Back then, you had to go to two different places to make a record—one place to do the recording and another one to do the mastering. With many existing studios charging high fees, the Chin’s decided to make a full-house production studio. They had help setting up the studio, and Vincent traveled to the States for needles, turntables mats and anything else they needed to record music.
The name of the Studio was simple and straightforward; Studio 17. One of the first local artists that Vincent produced was a Calypso singer named Lord Creator, who had come from Trinidad and Tobago. At first, radio stations did not play his single, “Independent Jamaica,” but they quickly gave in and started playing it for the locals.
In no time, Studio 17 became a hit for artists who would stop by to record and socialize. Back then, if an artist needed to record, they would sign a contract on a little piece of paper and head to the studio, a very uncomplicated process.
The sixties were an exciting time for Jamaican music and Randy’s Record Mart. By that time, Jamaican radio stations were playing more local artists. The business exceeded their expectations, but it was undeniable that Jamaica was going through some tough political trouble. This trouble caused many Jamaicans, including the Chins, to leave the island for a better and safer life in America, Canada and England.
The Chins made the tough decision to move to New York. The move was challenging for them. The couple were already in their 40s and had taken so much time and effort building Randy Record Mart, from the ground up.
On a warm summer day in 1977, Vincent, Clive (Vincent’s son from a previous relationship) and Christopher arrived at JFK to take their first steps on this new journey. While Dorothy, now known as “Miss Pat” in the music industry, stayed back in Jamaica with their two younger children, Angela and Randy. She had to stay back to take care of the Record store. Vincent did all paperwork to get them to New York.
While in New York, he searched for a place to call their home. Vincent scoured all boroughs until finally deciding on Queens, a thriving area. At that time, Queens had a majority population of white people. Race was not an issue for them as they were accustomed to living among different races in Jamaica.
They opened VP Records in a small rental store on Jamaica Avenue in Queens. As the new kids on the block, they sent out flyers and through word of mouth to let New Yorkers know that VP Records had access to any Jamaican titles available.
Customers started to reach out; they missed home. They missed their Island and the unbeatable Jamaican music. Miss Pat was still running Randy’s Record Mart from Jamaica and helped to distribute Jamaican music. When she would travel to visit Vincent and the children, she would bring records in her luggage.
VP Records would initially make as little as $30 a day and sometimes just $130 a week. Americans only knew Bob Marley’s reggae. They didn’t know much about other artists. Names that were big back home in Jamaica did not exist for Americans.
Finally, the family became one again when Miss Pat and the two younger children arrived in New York. She admitted to having a hard time in the beginning, “getting used to the different accents, culture and the people.” She felt out of place, like she had one foot back home in Jamaica and another here in America. With the cultural shock and the children growing and heading their ways, Miss Pat had a lot on her plate, but as the matriarch of her family, she managed it all.
Major American companies like Best Buy and Walmart did not want to carry album releases. However, that changed when a prominent artist named Sean Paul came aboard. VP Records signed a distribution deal with Atlantic Records and a decision needed to be made for that talented reggae’s star next move. They needed to decide which song would make a hit music video. Miss Pat left that decision up to her granddaughters, the next generation of VP Records. They landed on “Get Busy,” and they were right.
In 2003 Vincent passed away. He lost his battle to diabetes and other related complications. In his honor Miss Pat and her Children kept the music going. Pushing through the tears, the family was committed to continuing even as the paperless era of doing business emerged.
Christopher, the oldest of the children, was doing everything to get VP Records artists better exposure, bookings, and promotional events. As a result, VP Records was the first of its kind also to attract big hip-hop and R&B artists.
The following year, Miss Pat gathered every artist that worked with them since day one for the 25th Anniversary of VP Records. The big names included everyone from Shaggy, Bennie Man, Elephant Man, and many more. For one night, reggae music took over an iconic American landmark — the Radio City Music Hall.
“I am blessed to have many good friends. Knowing the artist personally and professionally. A big community of artists and friends and music lovers and that keeps me young and a lot of prayers. I am very blessed; I am very blessed.”
There is no doubt that Miss Pat has impacted the industry as the first female pioneer in a male-dominated industry as the company matriarch and Grammy-winning label co-founder. Yet, she is still thriving for more after so many years of legacy. She founded the V and P foundation, with its primary goal being to preserve Jamaica’s music history. The foundation’s name is a combination of her late husband’s and her name.
VP Records has been in the music industry as an independent record label for 60 years. “We have been in the music industry to showcase new singers and we have been doing that in the last 60 years. Jamaica has been gifted with music and we need to keep spreading it all over the world. While traveling, I have found out how much people like reggae music and it makes me very proud that a little island in Jamaica is producing so much music.”