7 September 1919|
|Died||26 July 2006
Scarborough, Toronto, Canada
|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 worked to preserve the practice of performing poetry and folk songs and stories in patois ("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 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-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. 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-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 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 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 similar things.
Bennett-Coverley died on 27 July 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 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 her honour 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.
Awards and honours
Bennett-Coverlet received numerous honours and awards for her work in Jamaican literature and theatre. In recognition of her achievements, Harbourfront Centre, a non-profit cultural organisation in Toronto, Canada, has a venue named Miss Lou's Room and the University of Toronto is home to the Louise Bennett Exchange Fellowship in Caribbean Literary Studies for students from the University of West Indies.
- Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (1960)
- Norman Manley Award for Excellence (1972)
- Order of Jamaica (1974)
- Musgrave Medal (1978)
- Honourary Doctor of Letters - York University (1998)
- Jamaican Order of Merit (2001)
Cultural significance and legacy
Louise Bennett-Coverley'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.
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.
Dr. Basil Bryan, Consul General of Jamaica, praised Bennett-Coverley 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.
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
- Jamaica Labrish. Jamaica: Sangster's Book Stores. 1966. p. 224.
- Selected Poems. Jamaica: Sangster's Book Stores. 1982.
- Auntie Roachy Seh. Jamaica: Sangster's Book Stores. 1993.
- Nwankwo, Ifeoma Kiddoe (April 2009). "(Ap)Praising Louise Bennett: Jamaica, Panama, and Beyond". Journal of West Indian Literature.
- "Louise Bennett, Queen of Jamaican Culture". Archives & Research Collections. McMaster University Library. 2011.
- 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.
- "Select Your Library - Credo Reference". search.credoreference.com. Retrieved 4 March 2016.
- "Biography of Dr. the Honourable Louise Bennett Coverley", Louise Bennett official website.
- "Miss Lou to be Buried on August 9". Jamaican Information Service. 1 August 2006. Retrieved 28 November 2015.
- "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.
- Knolly Moses, "Louise Bennett, Jamaican Folklorist, Dies at 86", The new York Times, 29 July 2006.
- 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.
- 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.
- "A Phenomenal Woman - the Hon. Louise Bennett-Coverley." The Weekly Gleaner, North American ed.: 21 August 2006. ProQuest. Web. 4 March 2016
- "Select Your Library - Credo Reference". search.credoreference.com. Retrieved 5 March 2016.
- Wong, D. (14 February 2011). "A treasure trove from Miss Lou". Hamilton Spectator. Retrieved 28 November 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.