GORDON Town Square has been officially renamed Miss Lou Square, in honour of cultural icon, folklorist Louise Bennett-Coverley who would have celebrated her 100th birthday last Saturday. The ceremony took place on Sunday in Gordon Town, St Andrew, where she resided for many years.
Speaking with the Jamaica Observer, her son and estate manager, Fabian Coverley said it is an honour to see his mother's legacy live on.
“It's hard to put it in words because it's so deep and its almost very, very emotional that my mother now has a square in Gordon Town where she lived for so many years. But we operate under destiny. There was no mistake, no coincidence; everything happens for a reason and it is what it is,” he said.
Miss Lou was born at 40 North Street in Kingston on September 7, 1919. She received her education at Ebenezer and Calabar Primary schools, and Excelsior High School and Friends College. She later moved to London to study at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts.
Miss Lou, was a social commentator, actress, writer, songwriter, poet, television and radio host. She died in 2006 in Toronto, Canada at age 86.
MONDAY - FRIDAY 11:00 - 18:30 SATURDAY 11:00 - 17:00
SUNDAY 12:30 - 16:30
(r to l) Prime Minister Andrew Holness greets Fabian Coverley
During the ceremony, Member of Parliament for St Andrew East Rural, Juliet Holness delivered her greetings in the Miss Lou style of performance. Minister of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport Olivia “Babsy” Grange allowed the audience to sing Long Time Gal, written by Miss Lou. Prime Minister Andrew Holness was keynote speaker.
The package would not have been complete without entertainment. The Independence Children's Choir, Hartford Cultural Group, and Energy Plus Mento Band gave satisfying performances.
By Aaliyah Cunningham
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Miss Lou gets her Square
This past weekend, on September 7th, it was a momentous occasion indeed at the Center for the Performing Arts in Coral Springs, Florida as the Jamaican Folk Singers were in town to treat South Floridians to a marvelous musical and theatrical experience in this being the centenary year of Jamaica’s endeared cultural icon — Miss Lou.
Referred to as the ‘Miss Lou Full 100 Celebrations’, the South Florida festivities were put forth by the Louise Bennett Heritage Council on what would have been her 100th birthday had she lived to see it. In her lifetime, the much heralded Miss Lou, was a poet, actress, comedian and activist, and is still revered today as a rock solid, fortifying pillar in Jamaican culture and heritage.
She played a vital role in popularizing just about every aspect of Jamaican folklore–which consists of songs, musicals, dances, and games for children.
The Jamaican Ministry of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport, headed by the Hon. Olivia ‘Babsy’ Grange, has invited the University of West Indies on the island to spearhead a national discourse on the state of Jamaican patois as we know it today. As it were, Miss Lou was a central proponent of Jamaica’s indigenous dialect.
To add some historical background with respect to Jamaican folk music, its genesis has been traced to West African traditional forms of music while also drawing from influences mento — a distinct form of Jamaican song, dance, and drum laden instrumentals.
The Jamaican Folk Singe have garnered not only international recognition and acclaim, but also a bundle of accolades throughout their existence. Going further, the Folk Singers have a vault of more than 200 songs and boast a wide vocal range complimented nicely by an assortment of musical instruments, such as the flute, guitar, rhumba box and, of course, drums.
I would be remiss not to mention the moving choreography that accompanies the performances of the Jamaican Folk Singers.Watching them perform on Saturday night was an unforgettable experience that will leave an indelible imprint in my mind. Aside from their show in Coral Springs, the Jamaican Folk Singers also praised and sang out for Miss Lou the evening before, on September 6th, in Palm Beach, Florida.
In Jamaica, there will be many special activities, held across the island over the course of 100 days starting from September 1, 2019. Aside from the Jamaican Ministry of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport, the Miss Lou 100 Celebration events in Jamaica have also been organized by various agencies, including the National Library of Jamaica, Jamaica Cultural Development Commission and Bureau of Gender Affairs. As a personal message from myself to Dr. Louise Bennett-Coverley: I just want to say, “Big Up and thank you Miss Lou for all that you gave to Jamaica. What a life."
Jamaican Folk Singers Paid Homage in South Florida to Beloved Cultural Icon, Miss Lou, as Part of ‘Yaad and Abroad’ Full 100 Celebrations
Cheers and Applause Greet Unveiling of Miss Lou Statue
There were loud cheers and spirited applause from the massive crowd, which gathered in Gordon Town Square, St. Andrew on Friday, Sept. 7, to witness the unveiling of a life-size bronze statue in honour of Jamaica’s late cultural icon, Hon. Louise Bennett-Coverley, affectionately called “Miss Lou.”
Prime Minister, the Most Hon. Andrew Holness, removed the covering to reveal the statue done by noted sculptor Basil Watson, which depicts Miss Lou’s expressive face and her arms outstretched, appearing to have frozen in time as she performed one of her many cultural pieces on stage.
The unveiling of the monument brought a climactic end to an evening filled with glowing tributes to Miss Lou in song, dance, poetry and personal reflections. The event coincided with the 99th anniversary of the birth of the late cultural ambassador, who was an acclaimed writer, poet, folklorist, educator and radio and television personality.
The Prime Minister described Ms. Lou as an outstanding Jamaican “who proudly and without reservation, put our rich cultural heritage on display for the world to see and admire.”
“What Miss Lou did, is that she was the first Jamaican to bring our language on the world stage,” he said, noting that she popularized the Jamaican dialect.
Mr. Holness pointed out that she was one of the first Jamaicans to be employed to the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), and she used that platform to bring Jamaican expression to the world.
“She was able to do it by also mastering the English language so she was a perfect ambassador,” he said.
The Prime Minister noted that with the installation of the statue in Gordon Town, where Miss Lou called home for most of her life, the area will now have even greater cultural value and will be ideal for community tourism.
“Very soon we will be making Kingston a port of call for cruise shipping. We will be returning cruise ships to Port Royal and to Victoria Pier….and the tourists will want to not just come and see the Bob Marley statue and visit the Institute of Jamaica (IOJ) and all the other places, but they are going to come right here in Gordon Town,” he said.
The installation of the statue is part of the Government’s plan to upgrade Gordon Town Square and transform it into the Miss Lou Square by the 100th anniversary of her birth next year.
Minister of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport, Hon. Olivia Grange, who was integral to the project’s completion, said the statue pays homage to a woman, who represents the best of the Jamaican people and culture.
“It is a great joy for me to see this woman, who so many Jamaicans see as mother, being elevated both physically and psychologically in the minds of the Jamaican social and cultural landscape,” she said.
“Miss Lou now has a statue to celebrate her and those who pass by, will look up to her for inspiration and encouragement as we continue our efforts to achieve sustainable prosperity for our people,” she added.
Known for writing and performing her poems, folk songs and stories in Jamaican patois, Miss Lou is regarded by many as the “mother of Jamaican culture.”
During the 1930’s, she wrote and recited dialect poems and in 1942 she published her first poetry collection, Dialect Verses.
After graduating from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London, she hosted the BBC radio shows Caribbean Carnival and West Indian Night. She later taught folklore and drama at the University of the West Indies (UWI) and served as director of the Jamaican Social Welfare Commission from 1959 to 1963.
Notable among her many publications is Jamaica Labrish, a collection of folklore and poetry, which was published in 1966. Among the albums she recorded were Jamaican Folk Songs in 1954 and Children’s Jamaican Songs and Games in 1957.
Miss Lou also had popular radio monologues, known as Miss Lou’s Views, from 1966 to 1982. Between 1970 and 1982, she hosted a weekly children’s television show, Ring Ding.
In recognition of her outstanding work, Miss Lou was bestowed with the Order of Jamaica in 1974 and the Order of Merit in 2001.
She received the Norman Manley Award for Excellence in the Arts in 1972; Member of the British Empire in 1960; and the Silver Musgrave Award in 1965 and the Gold Musgrave Award in 1978 from the IOJ.
She also received Honorary Doctor of Letters from UWI in 1983, and the York University in Canada in 1988.
Harbourfront Centre, a non-profit cultural organization in Toronto, Canada, named a venue as the Miss Lou Room.
Born on September 7, 1919, Miss Lou passed away on July 26, 2006 in Canada and was buried in Jamaica at the National Heroes Park in a section reserved for cultural icons.
Other stakeholders in the mounting of the statue included the Mayor of Kingston, Senator Councillor Delroy Williams; Member of Parliament for East Rural St. Andrew, and wife of the Prime Minister, Juliet Holness; the IOJ; Miss Lou’s estate; residents of Gordon Town; and the Jamaican Diaspora, particularly in Canada.
Alecia Smith - Jamaica Information Service – Sept.9, 2018.
"This joyful book celebrates the importance of language and taking it as your own." - Kirkus Reviews
"This biography of the poet as a young girl is a tribute not only to her literary beginnings but also to patois itself." - Booklist
"Bright illustrations in creamily vivid color by Fernandes capture the richness of life reflected in the language that so captivated Coverley and conveys how the things she sees reappear on the pages she writes." - Publishers Weekly
"Miss Lou’s sweet Jamaican patois speaks to a whole new generation." - Toronto Star
A LIKKLE MISS LOU:
How Jamaican Poet Louise Bennett Coverley Found Her Voice
By: Nadia L.Hohn
When I was ten years old, I found a book at my local library called MANGO SPICE: 44 Caribbean Songs. Growing up in Toronto in the 1980’s, as a Canadian-born Black child of Jamaican immigrants, I had never seen a book and a cassette tape which profiled songs from my cultural background. I borrowed them and soon my sister and I were trying to learn the songs. My parents overheard our attempts and, recognizing the melodies, sang along with us. I remember that many of these songs were credited to Louise Bennett. But who was Louise Bennett? Many years later, I was taking a writing non-fiction for children course at George Brown College in Toronto. I was given an assignment— to write a query letter and an excerpt of the biography. I knew immediately who I would write about— Louise Bennett – ‘Miss Lou’.
That was in 2012. I wrote A Likkle Miss Lou in the poetry style of Louise Bennett, advocating for the use of patois. I had experienced the appeal of her words first- hand in a Canadian classroom when I taught her poetry to my first grade students. At the time, I was teaching at the Africentric Alternative School in Toronto. Most of my students were children of Caribbean parents and when given Bennett’s poem “Education, Studeration”, they loved her patois words which were fun to say. My students “ate them up”.
After that first workshop, I continued writing and attending workshops, conferences, and courses. I wrote five children’s books which were published— Malaika’s Costume, Malaika’s Winter Carnival, Harriet Tubman: Freedom Fighter, Sankofa Music, and Sankofa Media. I organized book launches and tours, presented in schools and festivals, continued teaching, and kept writing.
In October 2017, I attended a writing biography workshop in Pennsylvania and my instructor said that it is ideal to publish a biography close to a significant date in your subject’s life. I did a Google search and saw that Miss Lou’s 100th anniversary would be September 7, 2019, but after querying agents and publishers, no publisher could promise that A Likkle Miss Lou would be published in time for her anniversary. None except Owlkids, who recommended veteran artist Eugenie Fernandes to illustrate the book. She had illustrated more than 20 books, including ones by Jamaican author Olive Senior. I was familiar with Eugenie’s work and felt that her colorful illustrations and bright movement style would suit my book.
Fast forward to August 2019, A LIKKLE MISS LOU: How Jamaican Poet Louise Bennett Coverley Found Her Voice was published in time for the 100th anniversary. I went to Jamaica in September and presented my book to First Lady Juliet Holness, the National Library, and schools, including the one that my mother attended in Saint Ann, Jamaica.
For more information, visit my website at: u
Born of Jamaican immigrant parents, Nadia L. Hohn is a classroom teacher, presenter, and award-winning author of the picture books Malaika’s Costume and Malaika’s Winter Carnival. Named by CBC as one of the top Black Canadian Writers to Watch in 2018, Nadia holds degrees from the University of Waterloo and OISE at University of Toronto.
Eugenie Fernandes grew up painting with her father, comic-book illustrator Creig Flessel. Since graduating from the School of Visual Arts in New York City, she has illustrated numerous critically acclaimed picture books, has written 18 stories and illustrated over 100 picture books for children. Having lived on islands for all her life, Eugenie now lives and works on a small island in southern Ontario.
Miss Lou's Greek Connection
As part of the Miss Lou 100th anniversary celebrations,
The Louise Bennett-Coverley Heritage Council (Fla) Inc., commissioned articles on Miss Lou from Jamaican writers living in South Florida for distribution to local Caribbean newspapers.
Celebrating Miss Lou's 100th
Celebrating Miss Lou
By Christine Craig
Jamaica’s cultural treasure - Miss Lou - was born in Kingston, Jamaica on September 7, 1919. This year, Jamaicans at home and abroad will celebrate her 100th birthday, paying tribute to Louise Bennett – Miss Lou- a beloved poet, folklorist, storyteller and cultural ambassador. For a brief glimpse into her life, let’s back-track to the 1940’s.
In 1945, a young woman from Jamaica, Louise Bennett, was the first black student to attend the prestigious Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) in London, England. She had won a scholarship from the British Council, Britain’s cultural outpost in its colonies. In spite of the origin of the scholarship, Miss Bennett was not interested in becoming the next great Shakespearean actress, preferring to work with Jamaican folk themes told in Jamaican patois.
After graduating RADA, she toured with various repertory companies and hosted two radio programs with the BBC - Caribbean Carnival 1945-1946 and West Indian Night – 1950. It takes some nerve to go to the land of the colonial ‘Mother Country’, as it was then, choose your own language over theirs and celebrate it on the very bastion of British culture – the BBC. That was Louise Bennett.
The importance of the colonizing language as a tool in the process of colonialism has been well-documented. With the language comes the culture and the prejudices of class, race, gender roles and status. The flip side of the dominance of the colonizing language is the belittling of the local language and culture. Not so very long ago, not to speak standard English, was to… talk bad. And to talk bad was a massive negative, marking one down in the bottom ranks of society, with no hope for a good job and upward mobility.
A key first step towards gaining our independence, not just from Britain, but from British culture and assumptions of the value of its language vis-a-vis it’s colonies’ native languages, was therefore claiming our own language. Claiming our own language was the path to claiming and asserting our own culture. To accomplish this, we were well schooled by a formidable expert, a woman who knew and reveled in our language and our culture, Miss Lou.
Miss Lou was a prolific writer and an engaging performer. Her poems were full of well-observed characters that we recognized and could both laugh at and empathize with. She recorded several CD’s and was widely published and anthologized. A currently available collection of her poems is Jamaica Labrish. It was first published by Sangster's Book Stores in 1966 and had several reprints, most recently in 2005.
With her stage partner, the inimitable Ranny Williams, Miss Lou turned the British Christmas pantomime, into a Jamaican theatre event that was widely popular and was a catalyst in the growth of Jamaican theatre, encouraging as it did the talents of actors, writers, designers and musicians.
Miss Lou was an influence with every age group. She taught folklore and drama at the University of the West Indies at Mona from 1955-1959. She believed strongly that children should learn about their heritage and she hosted a lively children’s television show Ring Ding from 1970-1982. She also travelled widely, performing and lecturing on Jamaican culture.
Her life partner was Eric Coverley who she married in 1954. Together they brought up son Fabian and adopted daughters Christine, Althea, Odette and Simone. Miss Lou and Eric ‘Chalk Talk’ Coverley shared a love of theatre and folk arts and together until he died in Toronto in 2002. Miss Lou was, and still is, a beloved, national treasure. She has received many awards for her work in researching and sharing Jamaican folk lore, storytelling, music and dance. Her awards include:
Norman Manley Award for Excellence (1972)
Order of Jamaica (1974)
Musgrave Medal (1978)
Honorary Doctor of Letters – York University (1998)
Jamaican Order of Merit (2001)
Christine Craig is a published author of fiction and poetry. Her poetry anthology All Things Bright & Quadrille for Tigers…is available at Amazon and from Peepal Tree Press, UK – www.peepaltrepress.com
Miss Lou - Drama Queen Extraordinaire
By Joan Williams
When Louise Bennett, affectionately known as Miss Lou, was born in Kingston on September 7th 1919, her parents could ever have imagined what an outstanding, poet, teacher, social commentator, actress, comedienne, expert on Jamaican language/culture and television star they were bringing into to the world on that fateful day. Neither could they have expected that she would be dubbed the “first lady of Jamaican comedy” and receive honors ranging from O.M., O.J., M.B.E., to Hon. D. Lit.
From as early as age ten, her slew of talents began to emerge when she started to write poems. By age fourteen, she staged her first paid stage performance. It is not insignificant though that her extraordinary literary talent was initially discovered by Eric Coverley, who accidentally ran into a copy of one of her hand-written poems in his friend’s car. Instantly impressed, he invited her to perform it at a concert.
He became her best friend, and in 1954, her loving husband.
In explaining her early interest in language and culture, in an interview entitled “Miss Lou and the early Jamaican Theatre” produced by the National Library, she said that it was her exposure to women from all walks of life which stoked her passion. For her mother was a dress-maker with clients ranging from the wives of governors and other “top a naris people” to those from the humblest circumstances. To her mother though, everyone was a lady from, “coal lady” to “governor wife lady.”
From an early age, what she observed from their interaction, was how important humor was in conversation and most importantly, how everybody was speaking the language of the common people when they became comfortable.
At the time, our own Jamaican language was not considered “acceptable “and was not widely used by those who had arrived, but clearly it was what everyone spoke once they relaxed! The young Louise, taking it all in, became convinced that our language should become widely accepted and be brought out of the closet, so to speak. When she was taken to the country to attend a Dinky Minnie which lasted eight days, there was no turning back for the young talent with a burning desire to write.
Her creative drive was fueled by her love of the folk songs her mother sung every day. These songs were popular in her mother’s birth parish of St. Mary, but totally unacceptable in the schools where only English was used. Miss Lou would shake up the status quo by writing and performing in patois, including singing and so popularizing Jamaican folk songs with a wide audience.
In 1942 Miss Lou was awarded a scholarship to go to London to hone her acting skills at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. She was given her own cultural program in London on the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) radio, but this could not salve her longing to return to her homeland where she was determined to shake up the cultural norms.
Her first target for change was the annual pantomime put on by expatriates in Kingston, and performed in the Queen’s English. In 1948, she wrote and acted in, Bluebeard, a Jamaican version of pantomime. Not only was it written and performed in patois, but also, the characters, aspects of the plot and much of the humor reflected then current Jamaican political and social trends.
The Jamaicanization of pantomime totally revolutionized the theatre landscape in Jamaica. It opened up tremendous opportunities for playwrights, musicians, actors and designers and gave birth to Jamaica’s continuing fascination with and support for theatre in all its forms.
In the ensuing years, Miss Lou kept us entertained with programs such as the “Lou and Ranny” show on radio, and delighted her audience while educating children in the performing arts, with “Ring Ding” on Jamaica Broadcasting Corporation (JBC TV).
Her first book of poetry, published in 1966 was Jamaica Labrish. Never shy to perform on stage, with the publication of her poems, others, particularly children, began to perform her poetry. Jamaica Labrish has since been continuously in print with the most recent reprint being in 2005. I believe that her most impactful work was her influential publication Aunty Roachy Seh where our social consciousness as a nation was awakened, through her inimitable humor.
This year marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of this great Jamaican lady whose influence on our language, social norms, culture and theatre can never be allowed to fade. Let us continue to enjoy her many talents, pay tribute to her and never fail to say, “Tenk yu Miss Lou”.
Joan Williams is a Jamaican author and talk-show host who now lives in South Florida. Follow her on: https://joan-myviews.blogspot.com/
Thank You Miss Lou
By Malachi Smith
As we celebrate the centenary of her birth, September 7, 1919, we acknowledge and celebrate the great legacy Louise Bennett-Coverley left us through her poems – our poetry. The story of a people narrated in their voices. It is a story written with verbal wit, deliberacy, passion, skill, competence, satire, laughter and drama. It captures us in all spheres of life; in tramcars, on the pulpits, in markets, in our towns, in our villages, in times of need and despair, sorrow and grief, in our celebrations and deliberations, in our ambiguous moments when we ridicule ourselves as being lesser than our colonial masters and in our times of triumph when we raise our fist collectively in jubilation as “Out of Many One.”
Miss Lou expertly married the African oral tradition with the European written tradition and in the process created a new self – one of pride, as the late Professor Rex Nettleford put it ‘smuddy ness.’ Louise Bennett through her sharp lenses captured her people’s speech and behavior in real time. To reproduce its beauty in organic form, she delved deeply into the past through cultural anthropology to find words and expressions to articulate our collective experiences.
Of course, there were those critical of Miss Lou’s celebration of Jamaican language. She suffered ridicule in the local press and certain sectors of the society. She was not invited to join the Jamaican Poetry League and for a while the Daily Gleaner refused to publish her poems. Her response to her critics at home and abroad was simple, “My main thing is to get people to respect the language.” In her poem 'Bans O’ Killing', Miss Lou address those who wanted to ‘kill dialect’ in favor of standard English. She makes the point that English developed through the years by including several dialects.
Dah language weh you proud o’,
Weh yuh honour and respeck,
Po’ Mass Charlie! You noh know sey
Dat it spring from dialect!
Dat dem start fe try tun language
From de fourteen century,
Five hundred years gwan an dem got
More dialect dan we!
Miss Lou was about sharing our collective story through her poems with the joy and drama of our tongue. She didn’t subscribe to the fenke-fenke way of doing things. The Wordsworth’s ‘I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud’, the Shakespeare sonnets of the literary world didn’t cut it for her. She appreciated them but believed firmly in creating a new narrative through her poems that could be understood and enjoyed, that captured the totality and tonality of the Jamaican persona. She wanted us to laugh until wi buss unapologetically. In so doing our heroine, folk poet and performer gave voice to the cultural identity of Jamaicans.
Louise Bennett made poetry accessible to everyone. She made it fun. It was loud, magical, drama, in-your-face poetry that was organic and hypnotic like reggae. It was new. It was the capturing of one big rich folk heritage that was ours to explore and enjoy.
To accomplish her mission, Miss Lou, the cultural anthropologist, embarked on a journey throughout the length and breadth of Jamaica, observing, listening and studying the lifestyle, speech, songs and daily habits and practices of the Jamaican peasantry. She was in love with her people and even more so the beautiful tongue we possessed with its flavors of Africa, Europe and Asia. She celebrated her African heritage more than anything else and was acutely aware that the call and response African griot storytelling style was the foundation of her story – our story. She is rightly credited as being Jamaica’s first dub poet. She gave birth to the Linton Kwesi Johnsons, the Mikey Smith’s, the Jean ‘Binta’ Breezes, the Oku Oonuras, the Paul Keens Douglas and yes, the Malachi Smiths of this world. The use of antithesis and short, sharp rhythm is very distinct in her famous poem:
Sun a shine but tings no bright;
Doah pot a bwile, bickle no nuff;
River flood but water scarce yaw;
Rain a fall but dutty tough.
Then there is the folk-song rhythm and syncopated fast word play in a poem like 'Pedestrian Crosses'.
If a cross yuh dah-cross,
Beg yuh cross meck me pass.
Dem yah crossin’ is crosses yuh know!
Koo de line! Yuh no se
Car an truck backa me?
Hear dah hoganeer one deh dah-blow!
Louise Bennett – Miss Lou - was a masterful poet and performer with her rhythms, her tricky little cadences, her repetitions, and her clever playing with the language. Her earthliness was infectious. Laughter was the food she fed us, the legacy she gave us, the tool she used to liberate us and make our journey a little lighter. Celebrate her we must. We owe her a debt of gratitude for the pure unadulterated joy she brought us. Thanks for giving us voice Mama.
Malachi Smith is a celebrated Jamaican dub-poet. His CD’s and books are available at:
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