Celebrating Our Story

THE WEEKLY G LEANER | FEBRUARY 1 6 - FEBRUARY 22, 2021 | www.jamaica-gleaner.com | I Denise Jones was energy, passion and compassion Neil Armstrong/Contributor D ENISE JONES, co-founder and CEO of Jones & Jones Productions Ltd, accom- plished a lot and, as an astute entre- preneur who was always brimming with ideas, had plans to do more. The entertainment icon who started the company with her husband, Allan Jones, in 1987, died on December 3, 2020 at age 64 after being diagnosed with glioblastoma, an aggressive type of cancer in the brain, in June 2019. She was the founding chair of the Reggae Committee, created in 1985 for Canada’s music awards, the JUNOs. A renowned event planner, Jones also managed artistes such as Carla Marshall and Nana McLean, who won Juno Awards for the Best Reggae Recording in 1995 and 1997, respec- tively. Up until her passing, she was the manager of five-time Juno Award winner Exco Levi. Jones & Jones made its name as one of Canada’s leadingmusic promotions, management and marketing compa- nies, producing concerts, plays and a Talent Search competition annually, and offering an array of services to performing artistes. It diversified its portfolio to include Rhythm Canada Talent Agency in 1990, and a corporate division started in 1995. “By far she’s been the biggest reg- gae promoter in Canada. It’s not just a promoter, this woman was a champion for reggae, she is a champion for Black people, a champion for the culture and she managed to do it,” says cultural activist and university professor Lillian Allen, who won Juno Awards for Best Reggae/Calypso Recording in 1986 and 1989. Born Claudia Denise Oates on April 23, 1956 in Port Antonio, Portland, she attended Hope Bay All-Age School where her mother, Louise, was a teacher and subsequently principal, and her late father, Claudius, also served as a principal. Her second- ary-level education was at Titchfield High School. Denise pursued her un- dergraduate degree in communica- tions at the University of Windsor, and upon graduating in 1977 returned to Jamaica. Allan and Denise performed in na- tional pantomimes in Jamaica in the 1970s, married in May 1980 and immi- grated to Canada in January 1981, soon becoming parents of sons, Jesse and Jerimi. It was while living in Sudbury, Ontario, that they started producing cultural events and would invite ar- tistes, including Allen, to perform there. In late 1982, Denise, Allan and others formed the Afro-Caribbean Association of Sudbury and she served as the pres- ident from 1982 until 1987. GROUNDWORK Ashante Infantry, a former Toronto Star journalist, describes Jones as a forerunner in promoting reggae music in Canada and what is taken for granted today, in terms of collaborations and the popularity of artistes like Kardinal Offishall’s hip-hop with some reggae undertones or overtones, the facility that Drake has with Caribbean and Jamaican music, and the appeal of Exco Levi. She says they all benefited from the groundwork made by Jones & Jones. Elaine Thompson says Jones was a game changer in the entertainment industry and undeniably impactful on the cultural landscape. Reflecting on her friendship with Jones since the company’s Reggaebana festival started in 1993 to infuse reggae into the soca and calypso-influenced Caribana fes- tival, Nana McLean described her as a trooper who was always on the go. Like Jones, Denise Burnett was a radio show host at CIUT-FM at the University of Toronto, where they met in the ‘80s. “We ended up being a force to reckon with, Denise had her opinion and I had mine. She was very deter- mined and strong-willed and she hit everything head-on,” says Burnett. Athena Ellinas-Towers, general man- ager ofTheOpera House, who has been operating the family-runbusiness for 31 years, met Jonesmore than25 years ago. Describing her as a legend, she says,“Denise was unstoppable. She knew what she wanted and there was no way someone was going to stop her from her dreams and goals. She broke open many doors for all women to follow in her footsteps.” While working at radio station CKMW in Brampton, Ontario, and indie label Attic Records in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, Mercedes Wright met Jones. “Marketing the artistic worth and contributions of people of colour to a Eurocentric industry presented many obstacles during those times; however, Denise conquered them.” AishaWickham, programme consult- ant with the Ontario Music Office at Ontario Creates – a government agency that provides economic development support to the creative industries – says,“Denise was such a tireless advo- cate for Black arts and culture – always using her voice to create space and ensure representation for her people within the Canadian entertainment industry landscape.” A celebration of her life was held in Brampton, Ontario, on December 27, 2020 at the Brampton Seventh-Day Adventist Church, where it was live streamed and the final homegoing ser- vice tookplace inPortlandon January 14. Jones is survived by Allan, Jesse and Jerimi, her mother Louise, brother Gary Oates, and sisters Devan Oates-Fraser and Angela Oates-Moses. Denise Jones charted a path promoting reggae in Canada The late Denise Jones with (from left) sons Jesse and Jerimi, and husband Allan. CONTRIBUTED 6 FEBRUARY 16 - MARC 15, 2021 | www.jamaica-gleaner.com | CELEB ATING OUR S TORY - AWEEKLY GLEAN ER BLACK HISTORY FEATURE