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One of the biggest groups to stand out in the 70s and 80s fanatical disco-era and truly make their mark was BONEY M. Their career was comet-like in that they seemed to blast out of nowhere.
Their sound - a mix of reggae, disco, funk, gospel, soul and rock - hit the charts around the world in a flash. Within moments, it seemed, everyone knew the Boney M name and their sensational array of musical hits. The overnight success which went on to manifest itself with over 40 hit singles, at least 30 albums (many more if we include the regional variations and ongoing compilations), up to 250 million units sold, plus numerous live tours and tv appearances spanning four decades.
And so from the day Maizie Williams, a classic high-cheekboned, long-legged, fashion model and dancer, was discovered in 1975 by impresario Katja Wolf and selected as the very first member of a brand new band, the carousel took off and the legendary phenomenon of Boney M was born.
So let's start with the Boney M name - plucked by Frank Farian straight from the TV screen in Germany where the popular Australian crime drama series Boney was showing. The show itself was based on books by crime writer Arthur Upfield and the visual allegory for Farian was perfect: the character Boney (an abbreviation of Bonaparte) was James Laurenson, a blacked-up, fair-haired white actor with blue eyes playing the character of Detective Inspector Napoleon 'Boney' Bonaparte, supposedly part Aboriginal, part white, carrying out investigations across Australia. And in front of the screen was Farian, a white man singing what sounded like a black song with a rich black voice, rather embarrassed by the fact that he was really a white man in vocal disguise! We are perhaps fortunate he never considered stretching to the lengths of his tv inspiration but instead used his better judgment to breathe life into a band that properly reflected his sound and truly became the personification of his vast talent.
Maizie's own story had begun on the tiny and remote, oval-shaped Lesser Antilles Caribbean island of Montserrat, where she and her five siblings were born under the shadow of one of the many smoking giants in that island chain, commonly named Mount Soufriere. Fortuitously she and her family left for Europe several decades before the smoke would turn to lava and ash and destroy their home, previously one of the most beautiful places in the world. Maizie finished school in Birmingham, England, went on to study drama, funded by some part-time modelling and, typical of her modesty, was surprised to win the title of Miss Black & Beautiful in a Brighton beauty contest. This inspired the name of her first band, The Black Beautiful People, and the title also opened several modestly lucrative doors to the modelling world. While on assignment at Modewoche (Fashion Week) in the German town of Hanover, she was approached in a restaurant and asked through an interpreter if she would dance to a new record. Suspicious enough to refuse but even more curious to know if this was for real, Maizie little knew that her fabulous career was about to take off. Fortunately for us, her hesitation turned into acceptance, and with her massive talent and stunning good looks firmly on board, the story of one of the world's most successful bands tentatively began.
Maizie Williams is not only the longest surviving member of the original Boney M band but, along with Frank Farian, probably the most influential in deciding the long term line-up since it was she who vetted the subsequent members to make sure they would all share a certain chemistry. The initial line-up had been without question a visual front for a record that was already a radio hit, while the follow-up combo was selected more for its broader talent and potential longevity. Maizie Williams, and two others she remembers only as Nathalie and Mike were briefly recruited to dance to Frank Farian's hit: Baby Do You Wanna Bump, for Dutch TV - a song sung entirely by Farian himself at that point