Independence Special: Jamaica @ 60 & Beyond

NAME OF FEATURE | THE GLEANER | SUNDAY, JULY 31, 2022 52 INDEPENDENCE SPECIAL: JAMAICA @ 60 AND B YOND F ATURE | THE GLEANER | SUNDAY, JULY 31, 2022 jamaica at UNIQUELY JAMAICAN LIKKLE BUT TALLAWAH! CULTURAL ICONS Jamaica, the only child of Augustus Cornelius Bennett, a baker from Spanish Town, and Kerene Robinson, a dressmaker. Raised by her mother after the death of her father in 1926, she attended Ebenezer and Calabar elementary schools, before enrolling in St Simon’s College and Excelsior College, in Kingston. Louise Bennett’s first dialect poem was written when she was 14 years oldandsoonherprolificoutputwould take her far beyond Jamaica’s shores. In 1943, Bennett enrolled at Friends College inHighgate, St Mary, where she studied Jamaican folklore, the same year in which her poetry was first published in The Gleaner. In 1945, Bennett became the first black student to study at London’s Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) after winning a scholarship from the British Council. On graduating from RADA, Bennett enlistedwith repertory companies in Coventry, Huddersfield and Amersham, and also performed in revues across England. Shewas also host of two radio programmes for the BBC – Caribbean Carnival (1945-1946) and West Indian Night (1950) during her period in the ‘mother country’. On her return to Jamaica, Miss Lou secured work with the Jamaica Social Welfare Commission where she was employed from 1955 to 1959, and taught folklore and drama at The University of theWest Indies. Her performances in local theatre became legendary. Miss Lou became known as Jamaica’s leading comedienne, and used her poems in Jamaican Patois to raise Jamaican folk art and expression to a level adored by many. She managed to express the thoughts of many in her verses. Between 1965 and 1982, Bennett introduced‘Miss Lou’s Views’, a radio monologue, and in 1970 started hosting ‘Ring Ding’, a children’s television programme. Ring Ding was aired until 1982 and was based on Louise Bennett’s conviction that “de pickney-dem learn de sinting dat belong to dem (their own language and heritage)”. Boys and girls were invited to share their talents on-air. Miss Lou also had acting roles in two movies: Calypso (1958) and Club Paradise (1986). In time, she also released many recordings of traditional Jamaican folk music and children’s songs. Miss Lou lectured extensively in the United States and in the United Kingdom on Jamaican folklore and music and represented the island all over the world. Miss Lou was married to Eric Winston Coverley, a performer and promoter of Jamaican theatre, from May 30th, 1954 until his death in August of 2002. Her contribution to Jamaican cultural life led to her many awards and much recognition. In 1983, she earned an Honorary Degree of Doctor of Letters from The University of the West Indies and in 1998 she received the same from York University, Toronto, Canada. She was also appointed Cultural Ambassador at Large by the Government of Jamaica. On Jamaica’s Independence Day, 2001, Bennett-Coverley was made a Member of the Order of Merit for her distinguished contribution to the development of the Arts and Culture. Miss Lou lived her last years in Scarborough, Ontario, Canada. She died on July 27, 2006, at the Scarborough Grace Hospital after collapsing at her home. A memorial service was held in Toronto on August 3, 2006, after which her body was flown to Jamaica for a state funeral. She is interred in the country’s National Heroes Park. In 2011, photographs, audiovisual recordings, correspondence, awards and other material regarding Miss Lou were donated to the McMaster University Library. A selection of Bennett’s personal papers is also available at the National Library of Jamaica. LEGACY CONTINUED FROM 50