Pop Quiz: What do Boney M. and Milli Vanilli have in common?
Quick recap.. You’d know that Milli Vanilli was a 90s RnB duo who shot to fame, then had one of the most embarrassing musical scandals after the revelations that they were lip sync performers (you can read about that on this post: Of Milli Vanilli)
Boney M. was a Euro-Caribbean group originally based in Germany which rose to popularity in the late 70s disco era. The group’s official original line-up constituted of Liz Mitchell and Marcia Barrett from Jamaica, Maizie Williams from Montserrat and Bobby Farrell a performing artist from Aruba.
Boney M. was known worldwide and had chart-topping hits such as Daddy Cool, Rasputin, By The Rivers Of Babylon, and Mary’s Boy Child which has grown into a classic Christmas hit… Kind of like how Christmas isn’t Christmas unless The Queen Of Christmas Mariah Carey drops a Christmas Album… Oh but I digress…
If your first answer is that both groups weren’t exactly as they seemed you would be correct… Similar to what happened almost a decade later the Boney M. as we know was a bit of an act, with two out of the four members not contributing a single note to the vocals.
Frank Farian who created the group and served as the group’s primary songwriter and producer was also the one behind the trademark bass lead vocals of Boney M… and oh yes, years later, would also be the producer of Milli Vanilli…
What do you do, when you have a song that you know will be a hit, a singer with a great voice but not have enough stage presence to wow a crowd and a photogenic performer with a voice not suitable for recording,… what do you?
How it started
In December of 1974 when Frank Farian recorded Baby Do You Want to Bump, he studio-created the bass voice that sang the line “Baby do you want to Bump” as well as the high falsetto chorus and the single was credited to Boney M. a pseudonym Farian had created for himself.
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
As the song climbed the charts Boney M. was booked to appear on TV, he needed to hire performers to make the fictitious group real and went about drafting people into his project. After some reshuffling, the enduring Boney M. line-up was Liz Mitchell, Maizie Williams, Marcia Barrett, and Bobby Farrell. Maizie had been a dancer in bar Bobby was a Dj in Hannover.
To create the Boney M. sound Farian used Liz Mitchell and Marcia Barrett along with his own studio-enhanced voice.
Boney M wasn’t an instant hit, but they put in the work, did tours and energetic performances while garbed in some daring costumes which put Daddy Cool on top of the charts in German and then Europe. They even had a bit of infamy too with their song Rasputin being banned in Russia and when they perfomed in the Soviet Union were ordered not to perform that song.
Rewatching some of the perfomances, I am like wow Bobby Farrell really brought the energy…
Boney M music topped charts in Europe and The Rivers Of Babylon was the first to be a commercial success in the United States and Mary’s Boy Child was the Christmas number one single of 1978…
*Side note* growing up I thought we sang Mary’s Born Child 🙈🙈 moving on
While it was not exactly a secret that Bobby Farrell never sang on the group’s records and that Frank did the male vocals it wasn’t until an interview for a magazine that Frank admitted publicly that Maizie Williams also did not sing on the studio recordings.
During that era it was common practice for Disco songs to have performers who were different from the actual vocalists so there wasn’t too much of backlash and the group carried along and had a good run until the group disbanded in 1986 after their tenth anniversary.
After the split, some pursued solo careers and would occasionally recreate Boney M. with varying line-ups to stand-in for the other members. The original line-up reunited for greatest hits mix in the 90s which would explain how I know some of this music.
Bobby Farrell had falling out with Frank Farian which resulted in him being dismissed from the group in 1981 and replaced by Reggie Tsiboe a Ghanaian-English entertainer movie star. Ferrel later rejoined the group in 1984 till its final disband in ’86.
According to Farrell’s daughter in The Mirror Frank Farian had deprived him of rights over Boney M leaving him with nothing but later his wife was smart enough to figure out there were countries Bobby could perform and went to do so as Bobby Farrell’s Boney M. She called on Farian to account for his part in her father’s decline as issues with Boney M drove him to drugs and booze and wrecked his marriage.
The band members got 9% royalties while Frank got the lion share.. In an interview in the Daily Mail Marcia Barrett says that when she tried for a solo music career Frank claimed her music for the B-Side of a Boney Music Album.
Maizie Williams had to initiate a court case against Farian and Sony/BMG concerning her rights to perform under the name “Boney M.”
To date the surviving members of Boney M. still do performances if you check the local listings..