On National Heroes Day, Monday (October 19), Director of the Jamaica Folk Revue, a Miami-based cultural group, Norma E. Darby, will be among Jamaicans receiving national honours from Governor-General, His Excellency the Most, Hon. Sir Patrick Allen, at Kings House.
Mrs. Darby has been awarded the Badge of Honour for Meritorious Service by the Government, for service to Jamaica and its Diaspora in the field of the cultural arts.
She is a co-founder of the Florida-based cultural group in the USA, the Jamaica Folk Revue, which was started 30 years ago to preserve the Jamaican culture abroad, through education and entertainment. Since its inception in 1975, the choir has been making a significant contribution to South Florida’s cultural mix.
Described as one of the leading authorities on Jamaican folk history, music and dance in South Florida, Mrs. Darby has served in several positions in cultural fora across Florida State and as far away as Atlanta, Georgia.
The Florida-based Jamaica Folk Revue
A significant portion of her work is educating children of Jamaican descent on their history and culture, primarily, through drama, song and dance. She has continuously advocated for Jamaica’s culture and heritage to be taught in schools in the Diaspora.
“I have always encouraged the importance of maintaining, sharing and teaching the positive aspects of our culture within the community, ensuring that this legacy is passed on to our young people” she said.
Describing the award as timely, dub poet Malachi Smith, who has worked with Mrs. Darby over the years, spoke of her genuine warmth and love of country and everything Jamaican.
“She is always willing to go the extra mile to showcase her country,” he said.
Norma E. Darby
Jamaica’s Consul General in Miami, Sandra Grant Griffiths, commended her work in the creative arts, especially with the Jamaica Folk Revue and the Tallawah Mento Band of South Florida, which she also helped establish.
“Over the years, their popularity have grown and they are now becoming a staple at almost every event celebrating Jamaica’s culture and heritage,” she said.
Mrs. Darby also designs the traditional ‘bandana’ costumes worn by members of her groups. “Whenever we were on show, Jamaica was on show,” she boasted.
After retiring from her full-time job with Dade County for nearly 20 years, Mrs. Darby assumed her passion full-time, exposing and sharing the island’s rich culture abroad as a volunteer.
She was instrumental in initiating the annual Community Cultural Tribute and Concert in honour of Jamaica’s late cultural icon, the Hon. Louise Bennett-Coverley (Miss Lou), following her death in July, 2006 in Toronto, Canada.
Throughout her extensive career, Mrs. Darby worked with other notable Jamaicans in the arts like musicologist, author and social anthropologist Dr. Olive Lewin, founder of the Jamaica Folk Singers.
Easton Lee, author and storyteller who has also worked with Mrs. Darby, described her as talented and dedicated and deserving of the national honour.
Mrs. Darby has also served on committees and participated in various workshops as a voice on Jamaica’s cultural development, and as a delegate to the National Diaspora Conferences in Kingston.
She took an interest in the creative arts at an early age, while attending high school at Wolmer’s Girls. She emigrated to the United States where she immediately became involved in the social scene, directing her talent towards folk culture.
A pianist, she also studied chorale conducting and music education at Florida International University in Miami, and has since been associated with several collegiate chorale groups.
She has been the recipient of several awards including that of the Consulate General of Jamaica for Community Service, from Broward and Dade Counties, and local organisations, for the promotion of Jamaican folklore culture. Recently, she was recognised by the Pan-African community as an honorary griot, “Keeper of the Past, Teacher of the Present”.
On her return from Jamaica, Friends of the Diaspora will celebrate with Mrs. Darby along with another noted Jamaican, Mervyn Morris who will also be bestowed with the Commander of Distinction (CD).
They will be special guests at a community reception dubbed “A Celebration of two Jamaican Icons” to be held on Thursday (October 29).