St Lucia mourns cultural pioneer Denise Joyce Auguste

Rest well, Patron of Les Danseurs Traditionnels De Ste. Lucie, Denise Joyce Auguste (Photo: St Lucia Government Information Service)

The island of St Lucia is in mourning as reports emerged that cultural activist, educator and musician Denise Joyce Auguste was found dead at her Marchland home in the capital Castries on Thursday (May 21).

The revered St Lucian was 76-years-old.

According to initial reports church members made their way to Auguste’s home as they had not heard from her for close to three days. It is believed that the respected organist, who lived alone, died of natural causes as police have indicated that no foul play was suspected in her death.

Photo: National Archives Authority of Saint Lucia

Prime Minister Allen Chastenet has expressed his sadness at Auguste’s passing, in a statement where he offered his condolences to the extended family.

“Our deepest condolences go out to the family of Ms. Denise Joyce Auguste. As a nation, we note that her voice, her music and her overall legacy live on. There are very few who could say their lives were not touched by her contribution through musical education. Up until the very end she was active in the church, a prayer warrior and active in music development. She was always willing to go the extra mile and persevered always for excellence. She will be remembered fondly and was loved by so many. She was a cherished and valued friend of the family and was always passionate about sharing her advice on how we could incorporate music into schools,” he wrote.

Our deepest condolences go out to the family of Ms. Denise Joyce Auguste. As a nation, we note that her voice, her music…

Posted by Allen Chastanet on Thursday, May 21, 2020

According to a tribute from the St Lucia Government Information Portal, Joyce earned her Licentiate in Musical Education in 1967 and became the first music specialist in the then Ministry of Education and Culture.

In that capacity, Auguste conducted extensive music education in the island’s schools, developed special broadcasts and organised music workshops.

Photo: Twitter @SaintLuciaGov

“In the 1970s and 1980s she led the popular folk band Hewanorra Voices which were instrumental in the resurgence of folk music.  Auguste has written extensively about music and had several compilations including the well-known Saint Lucia Songs – A Collection of Contemporary and Folk Songs (1984) and Oral and Folk Traditions of Saint Lucia (1986),” the St Lucia GIS explained.

Turns out she wasn’t just a gifted musician, as Auguste was well-known as a formidable netball athlete.

In 1969, she received the award for Sports Woman of the Year and represented Saint Lucia regionally and internationally in the sporting discipline.

In April 2000, Auguste was named in an Organisation of American States (OAS) list of Outstanding Women of the Twentieth Century and was inducted into the Hall of Fame for both Sports and Music.

Photo: Twitter @SaintLuciaGov

“In between music and sports, Joyce Auguste also served as a Justice of the Peace and Coordinator of various national activities including the school rally for South African President Nelson Mandela’s historic visit to the island,”

She is also credited with coordinating the Cultural Programme during the Papal Visit to Saint Lucia in 1986. 

In 1978 she received the singular honour of having her photograph on the ten cent stamp of Saint Lucia. She is noted as the Pioneer of the Festival of Carols and in 1988 became a Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire.  In 2017, she was awarded Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (O.B.E.).