LOCAL and regional universities have fallen short in their recognition of members of the artistic community when conferring honorary degrees.
That is the view of noted University of Technology, Jamaica lecturer Professor Clinton Hutton, who was speaking against the backdrop of the recent conferment of the honorary doctorate of diamond-selling reggae act Shaggy by Brown University in the United States.
“There should be more. However, there are flaws in the selection and criteria for such honours. When you think about it Bob Marley has never gotten an honorary degree from the university because of what he represents... Rastafari, radical pan-Africanist thought. [He was a] non-partisan political figure who fought for freedom and justice and was unyielding and constant in his lyrics, rhythmic structure and melody. He is worth more than an honorary Phd. His contribution to Jamaican and global culture is remarkable,” Hutton noted.
Among the members of the artistic community who have been recognised by The University of the West Indies are reggae icon Jimmy Cliff, renowned guitarist and arranger Ernie Ranglin, celebrated folklorist Louise “Miss Lou” Bennett Coverley, and artiste and philanthropist Rita Marley, the widow of Bob Marley.
“There is some hope, as Cliff clearly deserves this honour for the global impact of his music and lyrical poetry; but the truth is, he is seen as less threatening to the more middle-class concept of who should be so recognised. So, the hope is that this will even further evolve over time and the image of who constitutes a recipient,” he said.
For Hutton, the likes of Trinidadian painter the late Leroy Clarke, Jamaican inventor and music administrator Headley Jones, and trend-setting music producer Lee “Scratch” Perry are among those who have been overlooked.
“Clarke was a master painter of no mean order who, despite moves, was never recognised by The University of the West Indies. This is simply because he was his own man who didn’t fit into the image of what was considered intellectual, yet his work as a painter and poet puts him in the same category as Marley and Cliff as our cultural heroes. Lee “Scratch” Perry shifted the goal post in cultural expression that resulted in a decisive shift in how our music is perceived. Headley Jones’ work created or enhanced how we see ourselves in the country, region and the world; I would say the same for Count Ossie — but they were never recognised because of how their image stack up,” Hutton argued.
Shaggy was conferred with an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts from Brown University in the United States in May during its undergraduate class of 2020’s commencement ceremony.
The Jamaican entertainer, who was one of nine recipients of honorary doctorates from the Ivy League institution, gave an entertaining and inspiring speech as he touched on his own musical inspirations and his journey to success.
“You see, I realised early on that nothing showcases culture like stars, and nothing shifts culture like superstars. Because the odds were against me as a Caribbean artiste doing dancehall and reggae music I had to become not just a star, but a superstar; a star with superhero-like talent, personality, charisma, work ethic and presence,” he said.