THE past week has been punctuated with music and poetry, beginning with the talented Alpha Institute band playing and dancing to the ska beat, birthed at the Alpha Boys’ School.
Last Sunday, the majestic harmony of the National Chorale Of Jamaica filled the St Andrew Parish Church at the 50th anniversary thanksgiving service.
Then last Thursday The University of the West Indies Press brought Louise Bennett-Coverley, our “Miss Lou”, alive with the launch of 100+ Voices for Miss Lou, edited by Professor Opal Palmer Adisa.
The celebration of Miss Lou reminded us that she was a revolutionary; a historian, marking significant events with her commentary; and a dramatist. It was a privilege to have met and spoken with the great lady during Carifesta 76. Her husband, Eric Coverley, was a deputy director of the festival, and like her, a gentle, warm-hearted artist.
Emcee Fae Ellington kept the programme going at a merry clip. The Coverleys’ son Fabian shared memories of his mom, who did not like flying, and so he had to accompany her on overseas trips, oftentimes being weighed down by gifts she bought for friends and numerous pairs of shoes.
At the launch Dahlia Harris gave a review; Joan Andrea Hutchinson recited her poem Tenky Miss Lou; Professor Mervyn Morris recounted Miss Lou’s history; Faith D’Aguilar laughed at her uncanny impressions of Miss Lou; and Beverly Lashley of the National Library of Jamaica reminded us that there is a Miss Lou Archive at the library on East Street in Downtown Kingston.
We understood that Miss Lou had made waves throughout the Caribbean and Miami-based Professor Donna Weir-Sloley thanked Miss Lou “for rescuing our Jamaican language from bastardisation”. Dub poet Malachi Smith related an afternoon sipping Miss Lou’s soup, so excellent that he felt a spiritual connection with her. Talented 11-year-old Courtney Greaves sang Come back Miss Lou… mi nah tell yu goodbye.
In her reply, Professor Palmer Adisa showed us the copy of Jamaica Labrish by Miss Lou which her mother gifted her in 1970, and shared her resolve to create a meaningful remembrance of the great poet for her centenary in 2019. While the pandemic had slowed down production, the book had finally been sent to print last year.
Of the cover graphic featuring Miss Lou carrying, swordlike, an enlarged fountain pen, she noted, “Miss Lou was a warrior.” She remembers her saying, “If only people knew all the things I went through.” Professor Palmer Adisa shared that “[Miss Lou] was willing to sacrifice for us to have our language”.
Miss Lou told her, “I was always concerned about women’s issues.” Her poem Bans a ooman celebrated the launch of the Women’s Federation of Jamaica, and Professor Palmer Adisa said we could understand Miss Lou’s scholarship through her alter ego in the Aunty Roachie Seh commentary series carried on national radio. “My heart is full and I am thankful,” said the professor as she acknowledged the nearly 200 contributors to the book and her Manager Lorna Gordon. Heartfelt thanks to prof and her committee, who selected one of my poems for the book — what an honour.
100+ Voices for Miss Lou was featured at last week’s prestigious Bocas Lit Fest in Trinidad and Tobago at which our own Olive Senior, Pamela Mordecai, and Kei Miller participated. For me there is no doubt that Louise Bennett-Coverley and Bob Marley should be declared national heroes of our country in commemoration of the 60th anniversary of Independence.
HAPPY 50TH TO OUR NATIONAL CHORALE
We were lifted up by the National Chorale of Jamaica’s 50th anniversary thanksgiving service at the St Andrew Parish Church, led by Director Winston Ewart on the piano, Dr Richard Beckford playing the organ, and Major Roy Wade on percussion. We were reminded of the words of Nehemiah 12;27 in a reading by chorister Dianne Ashton Smith: “At the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem, the Levites were sought out from where they lived and were brought to Jerusalem to celebrate joyfully the dedication with songs of thanksgiving and with the music of cymbals, harps, and lyres.”
The chorale chanted Psalm 150, and stirred our national pride with Lloyd Hall’s rendition of Jamaica Land of Beauty. Rev Jean Fairweather-Wilson, a founding member of the chorale, wove Bible readings into her call for evangelisation through music in her brilliant sermon.
In his welcome, Chairman Christopher Samuda said, “Our voices utter prayers written and composed in music by the greats of the present and the past as we genuflect chorally before the altar.” He continued, “Family, this service marks the beginning of a menu of delectable repasts … our Medal of Excellence Ceremony at King’s House …a command performance in August at the Courtleigh Auditorium by internationally celebrated ‘yard’ opera baritone singer cousin Willard White and cousin Dawn Marie Virtue, noted soprano, both of whom will have a reunion with the chorale… preceded by an award ceremony at the cousin of this parish church in June when we will celebrate Founder’s Day and also by our second edition of Romance at the Residence in July.”
Patron Sir Kenneth Hall said it was his hope “that the chorale’s ambitious programme of transformation will enable it to bring its distinctive contribution to the efforts to project cultural certitude of the Jamaican people”. He said he expected the chorale “to expand its geographical space for its performers to rural Jamaica as well as to promote the development of young musicians”.
Congratulations to our fine chorale and thanks to its patron Sir Kenneth Hall, Chairman Samuda, Vice-Chair Donna Parchment-Brown, honorary board Director Earl Jarrett, and board directors Maxine Brown and Paulette Mitchell for keeping the fires burning.
MUSICAL JOY AT ALPHA
It was with a mixture of joy and sadness that we celebrated the life of Colm Delves, one year after his passing, with the Digicel business team and clients last Saturday at the Alpha Institute.
The stage at the Colm Delves Centre reverberated with the sounds of the Alpha School of Music band, reminding us why the school has been called the cradle of Jamaican popular music — going strong since 1892. There could be no better way to memorialise Colm Delves, a lover of music and a man whose fine qualities of integrity, excellence, and mentorship make him the perfect role model for Alpha’s students.
FAREWELL, MICHAEL O’GRADY
We mourned with our dear friend Yvonne Wilks-O’Grady the passing of her beloved husband Michael O’Grady. They were one of the most endearing couples we had ever met.
At the thanksgiving service last week he was remembered as a loving husband and father and an outstanding educator and school principal. He inspired his family, friends, and co-workers with his wit, kindness, and humility. Tributes were given by Jenni Francis, Dr Carrole Guntley, and Christine King.
In the eulogy, his son Matthew recalled his fatherly care and Irish heritage, and described his fierce support for his home team, Leeds United.
Michael took Jamaica as his second home and had hoped to spend his retirement years here. We send condolence to Yvonne and family. May his soul rest in peace.