the diva know throughout the world as patra was born dorothy smith, the second of five children and the only daughter of jamaican parents. born in kingston and raised in westmoreland parish, patra and her brothers were raised by their mother after their father died when patra was only three years old. like many north american divas, some of patra's first public singing engagements were as part of her church's choir. though patra's musical roots are firmly planted in jamaican soil, she claims to have learned a lot from divas such as patti labelle, tina turner and sade. while still a teenager, patra added djing to her list of talents and quickly realized that she was destined for a career in music. "[i've] enjoyed music but, up until then, i didn't really think about my goals," she explains.
after establishing a name for herself in her native jamaica, patra made her u.s. debut via guest spot on songs by mad cobra ("really do it") and richie stevens ("body slam"). her first solo outing in the states came in the form of the official release of the twelve-inch single "hardcore", which had already made the rounds as a bootleg track. in 1993, the single was followed up by the release of queen of the pack, patra's first full-length solo release. for the album's second single, patra teamed up with lyn collins and the p-funk horns for a remake of the former's r&b recording "think (about it). with the release of the first two singles from queen of the pack, patra had managed to grabbed the attention of u.s. audiences. though she already had a large following within the reggae community, translating that into mainland success would not be an easy task, as american appreciation of the genre rarely extends beyond the legends and almost never includes female artists. if anybody were going to break diva raggae in the states, though, it was going to be kingston's favorite daughter, lady patra. a perfect blend of provocative lyrics and exotic beauty forced american audiences to give a listen to riffs and hooks that were as accessible as they were true to their roots.
consequently, the subsequent three singles from queen of the pack "queen of the pack", worker man" and "romantic call" (featuring rapper yo-yo)hit the top ten on music networks such as the box. during the two years that followed, patra would be recognized for her talents by organizations such as the caribbean music awards, the international reggae awards and the reggae music awards, earning titles such as best female artist, best female dj and best song. by the time the album had run its course, it has enjoyed thirteen weeks at number one on billboard's reggae chart, garnering it the distinction of having held the position longer than any other album to preceed it. vanity fair magazine went so far as to name patra the first international queen of dancehall music. needless to say, the success of her debut effort resulted in gold sales and continued requests for collaboration by other artists. in 1995, patra joined with a veritable army of divasangie stone, lalah hathaway, tracie spencer, mary j. blige, vanessa williams, tlc, etc.to record the hard-hitting anthem "freedom", which featured both r&b and rap versions, for the panther soundtrack.
that same year, patra released her sophomore album, scent of attraction, which featured a samba remake of disco diva grace jone's classic "pull up to the bumper", as well as duets with aaron hall ("scent of attraction") and salt-n-pepa ("hot stuff"). of her decision to cover grace jones, patra commented, "i did 'pull up to the bumper' because it's a sexy song and i think it matches my image. also, grace jones is a jamaican woman and someone who i, personally, admire a lot." another song from the album, "goin' to the chapel", pays homage to another diva with its samples of sade's "sweetest taboo". though scent of attraction may not have garnered the same level of attention as queen of the pack, it is a strong album that is strengthed but not encomburred by traditional reggae rhythms. "this album means a lot to me because my voice has changed. i'm more mature and i'm more comfortable with what i'm doing, "patra confided, "i'm singing more, and this style that i'm coming out with now is more mature because i'm a little bit older."
as tina turner, queen latifah and vanessa mae, before her, patra has contributed greatly to breaking down the gender barriers that, to this day, inhibit women from entering into and excelling in certain genres of music. her vast talent, complimented by a sexual frankness uncommon to a world artist, have allowed her to achieve what few women in her genre have. is it any wonder, then, that she is respected by both her industry and her public as both the queen of dancehall and a reggae diva?