Bennett performing at the Anacostia Neighbourhood Museum's Jamaica Festival in Washington, D.C., 1969
Louise Simone Bennett|
7 September 1919
26 July 2006 (aged 86)|
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
National Heroes Park|
|Education||Royal Academy of Dramatic Art|
Eric Winston Coverley|
(m. 1954; d. 2002)
Louise Simone Bennett-Coverley or Miss Lou, OM, OJ, MBE (7 September 1919 – 26 July 2006) was a Jamaican poet, folklorist, writer, and educator. Writing and performing her poems in Jamaican Patois or Creole, Bennett worked to preserve the practice of presenting poetry, folk songs and stories in patois ("nation language").
Bennett was born on 7 September 1919 on North Street in Kingston, Jamaica. She was the only child of Augustus Cornelius Bennett, the owner of a bakery in Spanish Town, and Kerene Robinson, a dressmaker. After the death of her father in 1926, Bennett was raised primarily by her mother. She attended elementary school at Ebenezer and Calabar, continuing to St. Simon's College and Excelsior College, in Kingston. In 1943, she enrolled at Friends College in Highgate, St Mary where she studied Jamaican folklore. That same year her poetry was first published in the Sunday Gleaner. In 1945, Bennett was the first black student to study at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art after being awarded a scholarship from the British Council.
After graduating from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, Bennett 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 programs for the BBC – Caribbean Carnival (1945–1946) and West Indian Night (1950).
Bennett worked for the Jamaica Social Welfare Commission from 1955 to 1959, and taught folklore and drama at the University of the West Indies. From 1965 to 1982 she produced Miss Lou's Views, a series of radio monologues, and in 1970 started hosting the children's television program Ring Ding. Airing until 1982, the show was based on Bennett's belief that ""de pickney-dem learn de sinting dat belong to dem" (children learn about their heritage)". As part of the program children from across the country were invited to share their artistic talents on-air. In addition to her television appearances, Bennett appeared in various motion pictures including Calypso (1958) and Club Paradise (1986).
Bennett wrote several books and poetry in Jamaican Patois, helping to have it recognized as a "nation language" in its own right. Her work influenced many other writers, including Mutabaruka, Linton Kwesi Johnson and Yasus Afari, to use it in a similar manner. She also released numerous recordings of traditional Jamaican folk music and recordings from her radio and television shows including Jamaican Folk Songs, Children's Jamaican Songs and Games, Miss Lou’s Views (1967), Listen to Louise (1968), Carifesta Ring Ding (1976), and The Honorable Miss Lou. She is credited with giving Harry Belafonte the foundation for his 1956 hit "Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)" by telling him about the Jamaican folk song "Hill and Gully Rider" (the name also given as "Day Dah Light").
Death and funeral
Bennett lived the last decade of her life in Scarborough, Ontario. She died on 27 July 2006 at the Scarborough Grace Hospital after collapsing at her home. A memorial service was held in Toronto on 3 August 2006, after which her body was flown to Jamaica to lie in state at the National Arena on 7 and 8 August. A funeral was held in Kingston at the Coke Methodist Church at East Parade on 9 August 2006 followed by her interment in the cultural icons section of the country's National Heroes Park. Bennett's husband preceded her in death.
Bennett was married to Eric Winston Coverley (1911–2002), an early performer and promoter of Jamaican theater, from 30 May 1954 until his death in August 2002. Together, Bennett and Coverley had a son, Fabian.
Cultural significance and legacy
Dr. Basil Bryan, Consul General of Jamaica, praised Bennett as an inspiration to Jamaicans as she "proudly presented the Jamaican language and culture to a wider world and today we are the beneficiaries of that audacity." She was acclaimed by many for her success in establishing the validity of local languages for literary expression. An important aspect of her writing was its setting in public spaces such as trams, schools and churches allowing readers to see themselves, pre- and post-independence, reflected in her work. Her writing has also been credited with providing a unique perspective on the everyday social experiences of working-class women in a postcolonial landscape.
In 2011, photographs, audiovisual recordings, correspondence, awards and other material regarding Bennett were donated to the McMaster University Library by her family with the intention of having selections from the fonds, which date from 1941 to 2008, digitized and made available online as part of a digital archive A selection of Bennett's personal papers are also available at the National Library of Jamaica. Launched in October 2016, the Miss Lou Archives contains previously unpublished archival material including photos, audio recording, diaries and correspondence. The holdings of the Miss Lou Archives were donated to the Library by Bennett as she prepared to take up residence in Canada.
Awards and honors
Bennett received numerous honors and awards for her work in Jamaican literature and theatre. In recognition of her achievements, Harbourfront Centre, a non-profit cultural organisation in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, has a venue named Miss Lou's Room. The University of Toronto is home to the Louise Bennett Exchange Fellowship in Caribbean Literary Studies for students from the University of West Indies. Her other awards and honours include:
- Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (1960)
- 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)
- Anancy Stories And Poems In Dialect. The Gleaner Co. Ltd.: Kingston, Jamaica, (1944).
- Laugh with Louise: A pot-pourri of Jamaican folklore. Kingston: City Printery. 1961. OCLC 76815511.
- Jamaica Labrish. Jamaica: Sangster's Book Stores. 1966. OCLC 1968770.
- Selected Poems. Jamaica: Sangster's Book Stores. 1982.
- Auntie Roachy Seh. Jamaica: Sangster's Book Stores. 1993.
- "Jamaican folk songs". New York: Folkways. 1954. OCLC 255714807.
- "Yes m'dear Miss Lou live!". Sonic Sounds. 1982. OCLC 23971117.
- Jamaica Gleaner - Miss Lou Celebration Next Sunday - August 31, 2014
- Nwankwo, Ifeoma Kiddoe (1 January 2009). "Introduction (Ap)Praising Louise Bennett: Jamaica, Panama, and Beyond". Journal of West Indian Literature. 17 (2): VIII–XXV. JSTOR 23019943.
- "Louise Bennett, Queen of Jamaican Culture". Archives & Research Collections. McMaster University Library. 2011. Retrieved 1 May 2016.
- Murphy, Xavier (2003). "Louise Bennett-Coverley Biography". Retrieved 28 November 2015.
- Moses, Knolly (29 July 2006). "Louise Bennett, Jamaican Folklorist, Dies at 86". The New York Times. Retrieved 28 November 2015.
- Morris, Mervyn (1 August 2006). "Louise Bennett-Coverley". The Guardian. Retrieved 28 November 2015.
- "Biography of Dr. the Honourable Louise Bennett Coverley", Louise Bennett official website.
- "Hon. Louise Bennett Coverley OM, OJ, MBE 1919–2006" (PDF). Jamaica Cultural Development Agency. Retrieved 14 August 2016.
- Morris, Mervyn (2006). "Remembering Miss Lou". Caribbean Beat (82). Retrieved 14 August 2016.
- Williams, Dawn P. (2002). Who's Who in Black Canada : Black success and Black excellence in Canada : a contemporary directory. Toronto: D. Williams. pp. 61–62. ISBN 9780973138412.
- Stewart, Jocelyn Y. (2 August 2006). "Louise Bennett-Coverly, 86; Helped Preserve Culture and Language of Jamaica". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 14 September 2016.
- "10. Louise Simone Bennett-Coverley or Miss Lou". Toronto Star. 6 June 2012. Retrieved 14 September 2016.
- "Miss Lou to be Buried on August 9". Jamaican Information Service. 1 August 2006. Retrieved 28 November 2015.
- Johnson, Linton Kwesi (March 2007). "Louise Bennett, Voice of a People". Wasafiri. 22 (1): 70–71. doi:10.1080/02690050601097773.
- "Eric Coverley dies at 91 – News". Jamaica Observer. 8 August 2002. Retrieved 6 August 2016.
- Wong, D. (14 February 2011). "A treasure trove from Miss Lou". Hamilton Spectator. Retrieved 28 November 2015.
- Johnson, Richard (24 October 2016). "Miss Lou Archives opens at National Library - Entertainment". Jamaica Observer. Retrieved 27 November 2016.
- "A Phenomenal Woman – the Hon. Louise Bennett-Coverley." The Weekly Gleaner, North American ed.: 21 August 2006. ProQuest. Web. 4 March 2016.
- Bailey, Carol (1 January 2009). "Looking in: Louise Bennett's Pioneering Caribbean Postcolonial Discourse". Journal of West Indian Literature. 17 (2): 20–31. JSTOR 23019946.
- Neigh, Janet (1 January 2009). "The Lickle Space of the Tramcar in Louise Bennett's Feminist Postcolonial Poetics". Journal of West Indian Literature. 17 (2): 5–19. JSTOR 23019945.
- Cross, Jason (21 October 2016). "Miss Lou Archives launched at National Library of Jamaica to promote her great legacy". jamaica-gleaner.com. Retrieved 27 November 2016.
- "Miss Lou's Room".
- Morris, Mervyn (2014). Miss Lou: Louise Bennett and Jamaican Culture. Andrews UK Limited. p. 126. Retrieved 1 May 2016.
- "Louise Bennett Exchange Fellowship in Caribbean Literary Studies University of Toronto – University of West Indies". University of Toronto. Retrieved 1 May 2016.
- Infantry, Ashante (3 February 1996). "Jamaican 'royal' reigns here by fostering joy of language Island's 'cultural ambassador' to be honored for 60 years of work in arts". Toronto Star.
- "The Mother Of Jamaican Culture Remembered". The Gleaner. 3 June 2012. Retrieved 1 May 2016.
- "Poet and storyteller 'Miss Lou'". York University. YFile. 28 July 2006. Retrieved 1 May 2016.
- Bennett Discography at Smithsonian Folkways
- "Louise Bennett Coverley 'Miss Lou' fonds". Digital Archive @ McMaster University Library. McMaster University Library. Retrieved 28 November 2015.
- "Louise Bennett Coverley fonds". McMaster University Library. William Ready Division of Archives and Research Collections. Retrieved 28 November 2015.
- "Miss Lou Archives". National Library of Jamaica. Retrieved 14 November 2016.