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The Ministry of Tourism, Entertainment & Culture has learned with much regret of the passing of beloved folklorist, story teller, poet, performer and National Icon – Hon. Louise Simone Bennett-Coverley at her home in Canada last night.
I can state without fear of contradiction that we will never be able to truly measure the full value of Miss Lou’s contribution to the development of Jamaica, including issues of cultural and identity, women’s rights and gender politics as well as guiding philosophies for more effective daily living.
An entire generation of Jamaicans grew up on the stories, wisdom and good humour of our first lady of comedy and she engaged us music speech and dance on JBC TV’s Ring Ding, through Miss Lou’s Views and the Lou and Ranny Show on RJR and larger than life on the stage of the Ward Theatre in the annual national pantomime. She influenced the full range of Jamaicans, remaining an inspiration to the Afro-centric and Rastafarian communities, as much as school children, academics, artisans and the middle class.
As with all revolutionaries and living legends, in spite of her gentle spirit, Miss Lou managed to rattle elements of the aristocracy, aghast that she had the temerity to promote self confidence among the common folk, and was relentless in her advocacy for the right to independent thought, regardless of social status.
Miss Lou will also be eternally admired for her ability to forge deep, meaningful lifelong friendships, and to retain an open mind, welcoming home, and a non-judgmental heart. Though bearing no children physically, she was not only a mother to the nation’s culture, but shared her blessings in the most amazingly openhanded fashion with many young girls who would otherwise have fallen by the wayside for lack of resources and the nurturing of family.
Her relationships with other Jamaican and international entertainers are also legendary – from her manager turned partner and husband – Eric ‘Chalk Talk’ Coverly to her stage companion ‘Ranny Williams’, to Rastafarian poet and broadcaster Mutabaruka, Amina Blackwood Meeks and Joan Andrea Hutchinson.Miss Lou pulled many talented Jamaicans into her life and nurtured the friendships throughout all her life.
As a government, we are now even more happy than ever before that we were able to invite her home for a big three-week celebratory homecoming three short years ago almost to the date. (July 28, 2003). At that time, we were amazed at the extent to which her sense of humour stamina and characteristically musical voice were all intact. She was aging in body, but certainly not in spirit.and she lifted the entire nation for three wonderful weeks.
It was then that I realized the extent of Miss Lou’s contribution to the global value of brand Jamaica. At the time the portfolio configuration included ‘Industry’ with a cluster of activities zeroed in on the development of Jamaica as a hub of cultural industries as a lead strategy. The more I saw and listened to Miss Lou on that occasion, the more it became clear that she understood the value, strength and marketability of the quintessential Jamaican long before the discipline of marketing even entered the radar for many of us who have managed business enterprises.
For this, we owe her an eternal debt of gratitude.she refused to yield in the face of criticism, but never failed to inspire successive generations to rise to the challenge, and to ‘falla backa har’ (as she would say).
And now, a woman who was herself an embodiment of Jamaica’s ‘Joie de Vivre’ is no longer with us in the flesh, but will certainly continue to breathe life into every thought, word, project or product that bears allegiance to Jamaica, Land we love.
Miss Lou – ‘Howdy an’ tenky, walk good, an’ may good duppy falla yu’!