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Olive Lewin lauded as an exemplary Jamaican

By COREY ROBINSON Sunday Observer reporter robinsonc@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, April 28, 2013    

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THE soothing strings of violins; the throbbing base of African drums; the harmony of voices lifted in Jamaican folk songs. These not only captured the essence of Dr Olive Lewin's funeral service yesterday — they also embodied the life of the renowned musicologist, folklorist and teacher.

Lewin, who died on April 10 at the University Hospital of the West Indies at age 85, was laid to rest in a moving State funeral at the University Chapel in St Andrew.

It was an event that was well-attended by friends, colleagues and parliamentarians on both sides of the political divide; an event which made even big men cry -— a testament to the value of her contribution to national development.

Probably the most moving of the all the tributes offered at Lewin's life, was that from former prime minister Edward Seaga, who wished Lewin was greater recognised for her efforts to preserve the island's folk music history.

"I asked her to take up the assignment of collecting the folk music that was not yet recorded so as to complete the inventory of our musical soul," said Seaga. "She set about the task with a fervent mission. Every parish was her stomping ground. After several years of compiling a rich collection, she completed that phase of her mission. The next phase was the performance of the music, to open the door wider to this cultural wonderland."

"I wish, [and] I could feel it in my heart, that she was fully recognised in her own life," said Seaga, breaking into tears as his wife Carla moved to comfort him at the podium.

"She goes to her grave only partly covered in the glory she deserves.

"But God knows this woman of grace, this missionary of our music, this cultural ambassador was a heavenly icon, and he will do the rest to grace her soul as she deserves," Seaga continued, bidding condolence to Lewin's family.

Lewin gained international respect as an author, musicologist and social anthropologist. She is probably more widely known as the founder of the Jamaican Folk Singers and as the driving force behind the recording of Jamaican folk culture.

Yesterday, Lewin's daughter Johanna, following an emotional eulogy for her mother, begged Jamaicans not to let her mother's legacy go in vain.

"So much of her knowledge was not recorded," said Johanna. "My mother wasn't mine alone; she was a mother to Jamaica. She lived her life for Jamaica, land we love. My mother loved this country, our people, and our rich cultural heritage perhaps even more than she loved herself.

"Music to her was the universal language and that's what she spoke. Please don't let her legacy go to rest with her," Johanna said, to applause from the congregation.

Tributes were also offered by the Jamaica Folk Singers (JFS), and Lisa Hanna, Minister of Youth and Culture.

One female member of the JFS said: "Many are the stories which 'Doc' showed us; the many ways she helped us in our personal lives, enabling some to pursue certain careers, enabling others to take advantage of opportunities for higher learning, to pursue our dreams," she said.

"Her love and respect for folk music and the role of the group is illustrated when she said 'I'm very jealous of standards when it comes to Jamaica's music. I am conscious of how many of the composers we revere used folk music as a basis for composition. So why can't we extract the essence, the beauty of our songs and treat them as they deserve to be, always aiming at excellence?"

The first lesson was read by Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller, while the second lesson was read by Andrew Holness, leader of the opposition Jamaica Labour Party.

The tributes and readings were accentuated by songs and performances composed by Lewin.

Her body was interred in the churchyard of the St James Anglican Church in Hayes, Clarendon.

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