September 7, 1919|
|Died||July 26, 2006
|Resting place||National Heroes Park|
|Language||English, Jamaican Patois|
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, she was instrumental in having this "dialect" of the people given literary recognition in its own right ("nation language"). She is located at the heart of the Jamaican poetic tradition, and has influenced other popular Caribbean poets, including Linton Kwesi Johnson and Paul Keens-Douglas.
Early life and education
Louise Bennett was born on September 7, 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-Coverley was raised primarily by her mother. She attended elementary school at Ebenezer and Calabar, continuing on to St. Simon's College and Excelsior College, in Kingston before enrolling, in 1943, at Friends College in Highgate, St Mary where she studied Jamaican folklore. In 1945 Bennett-Coverly became the first black student to study at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art after being awarded a scholarship from the British Council.
On her return to Jamaica she taught drama to youth and adult groups both in social welfare agencies and for the University of the West Indies Extra Mural Department.
Miss Lou was a good resident artiste and a teacher from 1945 to 1946 with the "Caribbean Carnival". She appeared in leading humorous roles in several Jamaican pantomimes and television shows. She travelled throughout the world promoting the culture of Jamaica through lectures and performances. Although her popularity was international, she enjoyed celebrity status in her native Jamaica, Canada and the United Kingdom. Her poetry has been published several times, most notably the volumes Jamaica Labrish (1966), Anancy and Miss Lou (1979).
Her most influential recording is probably her 1954 rendition of the Jamaican traditional song "Day Dah Light", which was recorded by Harry Belafonte as "Day-O", also known as the "Banana Boat Song", in 1955 on a Tony Scott arrangement with additional lyrics. Belafonte based his version on Bennett's recording. The Louise Bennett version of "Day O" is available and documented in both French and English on the Jamaica - Mento 1951-1958 album. Belafonte's famous version was one of the 1950s' biggest hit records, leading to the very first gold record.
Among Loiuse Bennett's many recordings are: Jamaica Singing Games (1953), Jamaican Folk Songs (Folkways Records, 1954), Children's Jamaican Songs and Games (Folkways, 1957), Miss Lou’s Views (1967), Listen to Louise (1968), Carifesta Ring Ding (1976), The Honorable Miss Lou, (1981), Miss Lou Live-London (1983) and Yes M' Dear (Island Records).
She wrote her poems in the language of the people known as Jamaican Patois or Creole, and helped to put this language on the map and to have it recognized as a language ("nation language") in its own right, thus influencing many other poets, such as Mutabaruka, to do similarly things.
Louise Bennett married Eric Winston Coverley on 30 May 1954 and has one adopted son, Fabian Coverley.
Bennett-Coverley died on July 27, 2006 at the Scarborough Grace Hospital in Scarborough, Ontario, where she had lived the last decade of her life, after collapsing at her home. Two services were held in in her honour. A memorial service was held in Toronto on August 3, 2006, after which her body was flown to Jamaica to lie in state at the National Arena on August 7 and August 8. A funeral was held in her honour in Kingston at the Coke Methodist Church at East Parade on August 9, 2006 followed by her interment in the cultural icons section of the country's National Heroes Park.
Awards and honours
In 1960, Louise Bennett was made a Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire for her work in Jamaican literature and theater.
In 1974, she was appointed to the Order of Jamaica. The Jamaican government also appointed her Cultural Ambassador at Large for Jamaica. Among numerous other awards, she received the Institute of Jamaica's Musgrave Silver and Gold Medals for eminence in the field of Arts and Culture, the Norman Manley Award for Excellence (in the field of Arts), an Honorary Doctorate of Letters from the University of the West Indies (1983), an Honorary Doctorate of Letters from York University, Toronto.
On Jamaica’s Independence Day in 2001, the Honourable Mrs. Louise Bennett-Coverley was appointed as a Member of the Jamaican Order of Merit for her invaluable and distinguished contribution to the development of the Arts and Culture.
Cultural significance and legacy
Louise Bennett's poem “Colonization in Reverse” (1966) provides a historical context for many minorities living in the UK in post-colonial times. Her portrayal of the Jamaican experience of dislocation and racial inequality parallels that of South Asian people living in London. Additionally, in both cases issues of cultural specificity and identity are salient. Both Jamaican and South Asian people shared a similar experience in their move to England for employment and a better life while also implying the complexities of assimilation and dual identity.
Bennett pinpoints her concept of cultural disloyalty when she writes about Jamaicans on their quest for better job opportunities: “Dem a pour out a Jamaica/ Everybody future plan/ Is to get a big-time job/ An settle in de mother lan.” Her reference to the “mother lan” here has an irony to it in that she is applying that England is the new mother land as opposed to Jamaica. By her referring to England in this way it implies that her fellow Jamaicans are assimilating to England’s culture and leaving behind Jamaica, or the “mother lan.”
A similar notion of assimilation is expressed by the South Asian hip-hop group Hustlers HC through the lyrics in their song "Big Trouble in Little Asia". Similarly to Bennett, they combat the idea of colonisation; only their music references it through the lens of India’s relation to Britain. They express the variety of oppressions experienced in Britain, yet refer to Britain as a land of opportunity. Additionally, they reveal the struggles of mindless "bum jobs" just as Bennett does. Throughout their music, Hustler HC struggle with their cultural history of oppression: "colonial displacement, capitalist work relations and racial oppression". These struggles are shared by Jamaicans due to the similarities in their experience of colonisation. Moreover, South Asian and Jamaican music aesthetic merged in many music scenes in the UK. In essence, Jamaicans and South Asians in London both struggled in similar ways to claim a culture and identity—music formed as a tool to achieve this.
Photographs, audiovisual recordings, correspondence, awards and other material regarding Bennett-Coverley were donated to the McMaster University Library in 2011 based on the agreement that selections from the fonds, dating from 1941 to 2008, would be digitized and made available online as part of a digital archive
- Murphy, Xavier (2003). "Louise Bennett-Coverley Biography". Retrieved 28 November 2015.
- Moses, Knolly (July 29, 2006). "Louise Bennett, Jamaican Folklorist, Dies at 86". The New York Times. Retrieved 28 November 2015.
- Morris, Mervyn (August 1, 2006). "Louise Bennett-Coverley". The Guardian. Retrieved 28 November 2015.
- "Biography of Dr. the Honourable Louise Bennett Coverley", Louise Bennett official website.
- "Miss Lou to be Buried on August 9". Jamaican Information Service. August 1, 2006. Retrieved 28 November 2015.
- Knolly Moses, "Louise Bennett, Jamaican Folklorist, Dies at 86", The new York Times, 29 July 2006.
- "Miss Lou's Room".
- Bennett, Louise. “Colonization in Reverse”. 1966
- Sharma, Sanjay. "Noisy Asians or 'Asian Noise'?", p. 46 in Dis-Orienting Rhythms: The Politics of the New Asian Dance Music, London: Zed Books, 1996.
- Wong, D. (Feb 14, 2011). "A treasure trove from Miss Lou". Hamilton Spectator. Retrieved 28 November 2015.
- Walters, Basil (2015), "Prof Morris launches ‘Miss Lou’ book", Jamaica Observer, 12 February 2015. Retrieved 15 February 2015.
- Louise Bennett official site
- Government of Jamaica obituary
- Biography at ChineseJamiacan.com
- Bennett Discography at Smithsonian Folkways
- "Louise Bennett-Coverley, 1919-2006" (including biography and interview), DAWN Ontario, 27 July 2006.
- "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. The William Ready Division of Archives and Research Collections. Retrieved 28 November 2015.