More power for Miss LouTuesday, September 07, 2021
BY KEDIESHA PERRY
POET/author Joan Andrea Hutchinson says more work needs to be done to educate the younger generation about cultural icon Louise Bennett Coverley's (Miss Lou's) legacy.
“There's always more recognition that could be afforded to Miss Lou. We haven't done enough to preserve her memory. A couple years ago Ity and Fancy Cat went around with a photo of Miss Lou and Merlene Ottey, and when asked to identify them, many people couldn't identify Miss Lou. The Government and the JCDC (Jamaica Cultural Development Commission) have done a fabulous job at paying homage to her, but we need to talk about her a whole lot more and package her legacy in a way that is more suitable and attractive for young people,” Hutchinson told the Jamaica Observer.
Ottey is a former sprint queen, while Ity and Fancy Cat are comedians Ian “Ity” Ellis and Alton “Fancy Cat” Hardware.
Today, Miss Lou would have celebrated her 102nd birthday.
The legendary folklorist and actress is often cited as the forerunner of dub poetry, an idiom that emerged during the 1970s when a wave of black consciousness swept Jamaica. She also had a massive influence on Jamaican theatre, appearing in numerous pantomimes. From 1968 until 1980, she hosted Ring Ding, a weekly television variety show on the Jamaica Broadcasting Corporation ( JBC).
Miss Lou is best remembered for her poems in Jamaican patois, including Colonization in Reverse, No Lickle Twang, and Mout-amassi. Her books include Anancy Stories And Poems In Dialect, Laugh with Louise: A pot-pourri of Jamaican folklore, Jamaica Labrish, and Auntie Roachy Seh.
She was conferred with an Order of Merit by the Jamaican Government for her contribution to the country's culture in 2001. She died on July 26, 2006 in Canada. She was 87.
Hutchinson said she had a long-standing relationship with Miss Lou, who referred to her as the little Hutchinson child.
“I met her at the supermarket with my mother when I was five or six years old and she came over and said, 'What a pretty little girl!' Years after, when I began singing with The University Singers, I was at a show and Miss Lou was also on the same show. I remember being backstage and I was so nervous and she reassured me, 'No, little child, you'll be fine.' When people asked her who she thought could possible take over from her or fill her shoes she'd always respond, 'that little Hutchinson child',” she recalled.
“The truth is, no one person can ever fill Miss Lou's shoes. She paved the way for many, including Yasus Afari, Mutabaruka, Amina Blackwood-Meeks, Letna Allen in Canada…,” Hutchinson continued.
Hutchinson also remembers Miss Lou as being filled with humility.
“I would go to Canada and lie down in her bed and she'd tell me Jamaican stories. If I needed to bounce any idea off her, she was very willing. She was generous with her time and never ran me off the phone. Even when I was doing my own books and CDs and called her to ask her opinion, she was more than happy to help. She was a generous-hearted person,” she said.
“Her work documented society. I am most impressed with her war-time poems where she penned what it was like during those times — the economy, the state of society, and so on. She wrote for women, men, children, the system, police, soldiers, everybody,” she said.
Hutchinson, a graduate of St Andrew High School for Girls and The University of the West Indies, has written three books: Kin Teet Kibba Heart Bun (a celebration of the creativity of Jamaican 'poor' people); Meck Mi Tell Youh (Jamaican-language poems, stories and dramatic monologues); and Inna Mi Heart (Jamaican-style love poems done to background music).
In 2018, she received the Order of Distinction in the rank of Officer for her contribution to the cultural arts.