Honourable Louise Bennett-Coverley to be the next National Hero of Jamaica

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WHO is Louise Bennett-Coverley

Louise Simone Bennett-Coverley, known to all as Miss Lou was born on September 7, 1919.  A respected cultural ambassador for Jamaica. Miss Lou championed a fierce pride in her national culture, using her poetry and personality to legitimize and popularize Jamaican speech. She spread the richness of storytelling wherever she traveled and was an internationally celebrated and much loved folklorist, writer, media personality and proud Jamaican-Canadian.

Miss Lou was born on 7 September 1919 at 40 North Street, Kingston Jamaica, to parents Augustus Cornelius Bennett, a baker, and Kerene Robinson, a dressmaker. She attended Ebenezer, Calabar Elementary school, St. Simon’s College, and Excelsior High School in Kingston. She studied social work in Jamaica before going to England in 1945 on a British Council scholarship to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA). Within months of her arrival, she had a BBC programme of her own. After graduating from RADA, she returned to Jamaica in 1947. She went back to England in 1950, to work for the BBC again. This time she was in charge of West Indian Guest Night. She also acted with repertory companies in Coventry, Huddersfield and Amersham.

In 1953 she left for the US, where she performed in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, did some radio work and sang folk songs in Greenwich Village. In 1954 she married Eric "Chalk Talk" Coverley, a Jamaican entertainer and impresario, and they returned to Jamaica the following year. Miss Lou and Eric raised many children, including her stepson Fabian Coverley and adopted daughters Christine, Althea, Odette and Simone.

Miss Lou’s connection with Canada stretches back to the 1970s, when she performed to capacity crowds in the Toronto Public Library's Parkdale branch. In 1988, her composition "You're going home now," won a nomination for the Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television. Arriving in Toronto with Eric in 1985, Miss Lou chose the city as her adopted home and became a Canadian Citizen in 1990. She died in Toronto on July 26, 2006, and her body was buried in Jamaica at the National Heroes Park in Jamaica.

WHAT ARE HER Honors

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Let us begin:

  • ·         A collection archiving Jamaica's cultural icon and her works during the latter part of her life is now included in McMaster University's library.
  • ·         Almost nine metres or 40 boxes of Louise Bennett-Coverley's photos, audiovisual performances, correspondences, awards and other material spanning from 1941 to 2008 have been handed over to McMaster.
  • ·         The National Library of Jamaica has an archive of Louise Bennett material.
  • ·         Appearing in leading humorous roles, in numerous Jamaican Pantomimes and television shows, Miss Lou traveled throughout the world promoting the culture of Jamaica by lecturing and performing. She first appeared in a pantomime in 1943/44 "Soliday and the Wicked Bird" in the chorus role - Big Sambo Gal. As the decade came to a close, joined by Ranny Williams, she became an integral part of the process to Jamaicanize the Pantomime. Drawing on her knowledge of folk songs and tales, she was the author or co-author of five pantomimes including Bluebeard and Brer Anancy (1949) and wrote "Anancy & Pandora" in 1955. Perhaps one of her most lasting efforts was the song "Evening Time" (with music by Barbara Ferland) which has become a Jamaican classic. She co-wrote "Queenie's Daughter" which proved so popular, it was revived twice. 
  • Her relationship on stage as part of the duo Miss Lou and Mass Ran (Ranny Williams) became legendary, but she also served as director (joined by Rex Nettleford) for 1961/62 "Carib Gold". All told, she performed in 25 pantomimes from 1943 to 1975. She last trod the boards in 1975/76 Pantomime “The Witch". 

And to continue:

  • Member of the British Empire (MBE), 1960
  • Silver Musgrave Medal, Institute of Jamaica 1965
  • Norman Manley Award for Excellence in the Arts, 1972
  • Order of Jamaica (OJ) 1974
  • Gold Musgrave Medal, Institute of Jamaica 1978
  • Institute of Jamaica's Musgrave Gold Medal 1979 
  • Honorary degree of Doctor of Letters from the University of the West Indies, 1983
  • Formalization of the Louise Bennett Exchange Fellowship for post-graduate research in Jamaican/West Indian folk language culture at UWI and University of Toronto.
  • Honorary degree of Doctor of Letters from York University, Toronto Canada, 1998
  • Genie Music Awards nomination for best original song (“You’re Going Home Now”), which appeared in the film “Milk and Honey”
  • Order of Merit (OM) – Jamaica’s 3rd highest honour – 2001
  • Miss Lou’s Room, a reading room and activity space for children at Harbourfront Centre in Toronto, opened to the public in July 2007 on the first anniversary of her death. Miss Lou’s Room – a re-shapeable three-room venue – functions primarily as a reading-and-activity space for children. But it also houses a permanent exhibit highlighting Miss Lou’s life and work that has proven to have tremendous resonance for adults and children alike
  • September 7, 2018 the unveiling in Gordon Town, Jamaica, of a statue in honour of Louise Bennett-Coverley.

WHAT DOES THE WORLD SAY ABOUT the Honorable Louise Bennett-Coverley

Some quotations…….

“Regarded by many as the “mother of Jamaican culture” for her efforts to popularize Jamaican Patois and to celebrate the lives of ordinary Jamaicans”

 “Living Legend” and a cultural icon” 

“She taught us that though we were small, we had a valuable contribution to make to the world.”

“As a Jamaican poet she was unique. As a performer she was peerless, and as a cultural researcher and educator she was tireless, innovative and pioneering. She was our queen of folklore, in the spoken and sung world, and her unmatched ability to summarise what was unique and humorous about Jamaica made us love her instinctively.”

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WHY must she be a National Hero.

    Looking back, for all of us, there are some words which spring to mind when we think of Louise Bennett. First of all, we all call her Miss Lou. That shortening of her name is a sign of familiarity and love. Love for who she is and that she is doing what I have wanted to do so long and couldn’t do. Then there is philosophy. She taught us that these proverbs that have been handed down from 3 and 4 generations were all built on a certain philosophy of life. Like how we can smile through hardships, or we should love ourselves and not allow anyone to look down on us. We have a strong African heritage with some of our words from the Twi language so we must speak our language as a language and not as slang so no one can go spwile up de culture. Ever heard of doodoo-fetic or dumpling refugee? 

    So keeping this as a reference when we examine who is a hero, we find that all the discussions tell us of a person who was an activist for change. Change of something endemic to the culture and way of life. Something that needed changing if we as a people were to exist with a sense of pride and self-knowledge. This change is something that everyone concerned admires and emulates. It comes naturally as we live the passion and determination of our hero. We revel in the beautiful feeling it gives us inside when we can do what she asks of us and we find we are as determined as her to find new, unique ways to continue what she started.

    What was so unique about her works? They were all written and performed in the Jamaican patios (pronounced pat-wa). At first, she was frowned upon and laughed at for using such 'bad language' instead of the Queen's English that was taught to all school students. To her ears and in her mind, there was no such thing as 'bad language'; they are only different. By using the Jamaican Patios, she connected with Jamaicans of all classes all around the world. However, they were not the only ones to fall in love with Miss Lou. People all over the world, black, white, and in-between loved her. She not only proved how beautiful the language is, but also brought messages through her works. She spoke of politics, travel, etiquette, social issues, and especially, everyone's favourites, the unique and hilarious happenings of Jamaica's backyard. She was a pioneer in instilling pride in Jamaican Culture and having Patois recognized as a language in its own right - thus influencing generations of Poets to come.

    It’s not just a love for Miss Lou, a vague admiration for something she did in the past. No. It is wonderment than anyone could even think of beginning this change in our lives. It is realizing that we can find a way to say something that’s deep down inside that English will never be able to do. It is saying to the world listen to Miss Lou our national hero as she teaches you, the outsider, the beauty of bringing together cultures through language.

Publications by Miss Lou include:

·         Dialect Verses (Jamaica) 1942

·         Jamaican Humour in Dialect  1943

·         Laugh with Louise 1961

·         Jamaica Labrish, 1966

·         Anancy and Miss Lou 1979

·         Selected Poems, 1982

·         Aunty Roachy Sey 1993

Among her many recordings are:

       Jamaica Folksongs Folkways 1953

       Jamaica Singing Games- 1953

       Miss Lou’s Views 1967

       Listen to Louise 1968

       Carifesta Ring Ding 1976

       The Honourable Miss Lou 1981

       Miss Lou Live, London 1983

       Yes M’ Dear Island Records 1983

    All the world loves Jamaica but do all Jamaican’s love themselves? Jamaica is now ready for another National Hero. The time is right. We all need someone with whom we can identify, someone who will help us to smile even when the going is tough, someone who reminds us in a personal way that our country is as great as it has always been. This very special contemporary National Hero will help us to believe in ourselves and our unique cultural mix. She will help us to love ourselves again. 

Honorable Louise Bennett-Coverley to be the next National Hero of Jamaica.

 



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