I haven't seen this mentioned elsewhere in reggae blogdom so I figured I'd step up and give this story the exposure it deserves... I've been reading a lot of the obituaries and tributes that have appeared online and I have decided to share this article written by Gregory Lewis and Arlene Barochin which appeared on the Sun-Sentinel's website on Thursday. I think this does a fairly concise job explaining Miss Lou's importance to Jamaican culture...
Louise Bennett-Coverly, the Jamaican folklorist, actress, artist and writer who celebrated ordinary people and helped popularize Jamaican patois, died Wednesday in a Toronto hospital. She was 87.
Ms. Bennett-Coverly's death, reported by the Jamaica Gleaner on its Web site, was big news on the island and in South Florida, where generations of Jamaicans remembered growing up with the woman they affectionately called "Miss Lou."
"When you think of Jamaica and Jamaican culture's place in the world, you immediately think of Miss Lou," said Marlon Hill, a Miami attorney who is Jamaican-American.
During her more than 50-year career, Ms. Bennett-Coverly expressed herself in various art forms, including poetry, pantomime, movies and television.
Ms. Bennett-Coverly made it acceptable to speak the blend of languages called patois, which reflected the island's African roots. She helped Jamaicans understand that the unique dialect was part of their cultural heritage.
"She gave rural people a voice," said Junior Farquarson, a West Palm Beach attorney. "She uplifted people on radio and television. She gave us comedy. She was the first lady of comedy."
Lauderdale Lakes Commissioner Hazelle Rogers remembered her father taking her to plays on Sunday afternoons that featured that "iconic woman of culture" speaking patois.
"I loved Louise Bennett," Rogers said. "She contributed to the dialect as well as speaking the Queen's language."
Louise Bennett was born in Kingston in 1919 to Augustus Cornelius Bennett and his wife Kerene Robinson. She attended schools in Jamaica and in England. She married impresario Eric "Chalktalk" Coverly in 1954. He died before she did.
While her poetry was a source of pride for Jamaicans, she also was known for her television appearances.
"I remember as a young child watching her on Ringding," said Tanya Ragbeer, of Southwest Ranches. "Everyday, the kids would come home from school and watch TV to watch Miss Lou. They would always eat milk and cookies on the show. She would tell stories, and they would sing Caribbean songs. She would tell stories of Brer Anacy [a spider god]."
When Ms. Bennett-Coverly began writing and reciting her dialect poems in the 1930s and 1940s, some considered it embarrassing because they thought patois was the language of the poor and illiterate. Today, many say she elevated Jamaican patois to a fine art through style and wit.
"Jamaica's folklore was popularized and institutionalized by her work," Hill said. "Her work had a direct effect on the acceptance and legitimacy on the patois, not only in Jamaica, but also friends or people who were drawn to the culture of Jamaica. She translated our cultural identity to the world."
Ms. Bennett-Coverly spent most of the past two decades in Canada but still remained a hero to Jamaicans on the island and abroad.
"My regret is that the Jamaican government didn't see fit to take care of one of its greatest," Farquarson said. "A lady like that should have never been allowed to leave the country."
Jamaican folk singer Norma Darby, who lives in Miami, said she was influenced by Miss Lou. Darby said the folklorist passed the torch to all who wanted to preserve the island's culture.
"She's like the Bob Marley of folklore and her legend will live on," Darby said.
As a tribute to Mrs. Bennett-Coverley I present one of her best known poems called "Colonization in Reverse"
Wat a joyful news, miss Mattie,
I feel like me heart gwine burs
Jamaica people colonizin
Englan in Reverse
By de hundred, by de tousan
From country and from town,
By de ship-load, by de plane load
Jamica is Englan boun.
Dem a pour out a Jamaica,
Everybody future plan
Is fe get a big-time job
An settle in de mother lan.
What an islan! What a people!
Man an woman, old an young
Jus a pack dem bag an baggage
An turn history upside dung!
Some people doan like travel,
But fe show dem loyalty
Dem all a open up cheap-fare-
An week by week dem shippin off
Dem countryman like fire,
Fe immigrate an populate
De seat a de Empire.
Oonoo see how life is funny,
Oonoo see da turnabout?
jamaica live fe box bread
Out a English people mout'.
For wen dem ketch a Englan,
An start play dem different role,
Some will settle down to work
An some will settle fe de dole.
Jane says de dole is not too bad
Because dey payin she
Two pounds a week fe seek a job
dat suit her dignity.
me say Jane will never fine work
At de rate how she dah look,
For all day she stay popn Aunt Fan couch
An read love-story book.
Wat a devilment a Englan!
Dem face war an brave de worse,
But me wonderin how dem gwine stan
Colonizin in reverse.