Entertainment

Miss Lou — Mother of Jamaican culture

By Richard Johnson
Observer senior reporter

Sunday, June 18, 2017

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This is the sixth in our daily series highlighting 55 Jamaicans who broke down barriers and helped put the country on the world stage. Each day one personality will be featured, culminating Independence Day, August 6.

Mention the name Miss Lou, and a wave of pride and nationalism floats over the vast majority of Jamaicans for the work and worth of folklorist, poet, writer, stage and screen actress, social activist and educator, Louise Bennett Coverley.

Born in Kingston on September 7, 1919 on North Street in Kingston, she would rise to become the leading proponent in preserving the practice of presenting poetry, folk songs and stories in patois — Jamaica's native tongue.

In 1945, Bennett became the first black student to study at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, after being awarded a scholarship from the British Council. Upon graduation, she worked with repertory companies in Coventry, Huddersfield and Amersham, as well as in intimate revues across England. During her time in the country, she hosted two radio programmes for the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) – Caribbean Carnival (1945–1946) and West Indian Night (1950).

On her return to Jamaica, the fire to present Jamaica to Jamaicans drove her to adapt the National Pantomime to include and later embody aspects of local culture — a sharp deviation from the Eurocentric themes previously portrayed.

Her work took on mass appeal through her presence in media, initially in print and later the electronic media to radio and then famously on television where she hosted Ring Ding, a weekly talent expose on the now defunct Jamaica Broadcasting Corporation.

Miss Lou died on July 27, 2006 at the Scarborough Grace Hospital, after collapsing at her home in Canada. She had lived the last decade of her life in that country. A memorial service was first held in Toronto, then her body was flown to Jamaica to lie in state at the National Arena ahead of a funeral which was held in Kingston at the Coke Methodist Church, East Parade, on August 9. She is interred in the cultural icons section of the country's National Heroes' Park.

Folk legend, mother of Jamaican culture and a cherished national treasure are but some of titles ascribed to this true Jamaican whose work continues to educate, entertain and inform.

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