Louise Bennett-Coverley was a woman of unquestioned loyalty to Jamaica’s culture.
At times when she stood alone, Bennett Coverley, affectionately called ‘Miss Lou’, defended of our language, Jamaican Patois, demanding its widespread acceptance.
Miss Lou remained undaunted despite the resistance, refusing to believe that our language was as ‘bad’, ‘corrupted’ and ‘uncivilised’ as it was repeatedly perceived.
She worked through her poems, songs and stories to change a toxic mindset, spearheading a movement of self-acceptance and respect for our own innate cultural imprint.
As Jamaica celebrates this gem of a woman and cultural pioneer on her 100th birthday, BUZZ presents 10 facts on the renowned activist, folklorist and comedienne:
1. Louise Simone Bennett came into being on Sunday, September 7, 1919, along North Street in Kingston as the only child borne to a bakery-owning father and her mother, who worked as a dressmaker.
2. A young Bennett, now 14-years-old, noticed she had a penchant for storytelling, and as a student of the Friends College in St. Mary, she had her first Jamaican patois poem published in The Sunday Gleaner in 1943, after being initially rejected.
3. A British Council scholarship took ‘Miss Lou’ to England, where she studied at London’s iconic Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) in the 1940s, becoming the first black woman in history to enroll.
4. After graduating and a brief stint working with theatre companies across the UK, as well as being host for radio programmes on the British Broadcasting Commission (BBC), Bennett returned to Jamaica – where she taught folklore and drama at the newly formed University of the West Indies (UWI).
5. Bennett quickly cemented herself as a household name after producing a series of radio monologues called Miss Lou’s Views, from 1965 to 1982. During the show, Bennett, under the alias of her alter-ego Aunty Roachy, would comment on local news pieces with wit and humour.
6. Miss Lou started to reach the minds of young Jamaicans when started hosting the children’s television programme Ring Ding in 1970. Never doubting for a second her belief “that ‘de pickney-dem learn de sinting dat belong to dem’ (that the children learn about their heritage)”, Ring Ding was a staple in the lives of thousands of children until its last season in 1982.
7. Bennett wrote several books and poetry in Jamaican Patois, helping to have it recognised as a national language in its own right. She is credited with giving Harry Belafonte the foundation for his 1956 hit “Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)” by telling him about the Jamaican folk song “Day Dah Light”.
8. The consummate performer, Bennett also released numerous recordings of traditional Jamaican folk music as well as recordings from her radio and television shows during its heyday between 1967 and 1976.
9. Miss Lou has been acclaimed by many for her success in establishing the validity of local languages for literary expression. Her writing has also been credited with providing a unique perspective on the everyday social experiences of working-class women in the postcolonial Jamaican landscape.
10. Bennett lived the last decade of her colourful life in Scarborough, Ontario and died in July 2006. at the Scarborough Grace Hospital after collapsing at her home. After a memorial service in Toronto and a state-funeral in Kingston, Miss Lou was laid to rest beside her husband Eric Coverley in August 2006, in the cultural icons section of National Heroes Park.
Walk good, Miss Lou…
A nation and its people are indebted to your courage, infectious laughter and warm personality. May your legacy live on forever…
BUZZ fam, what is your fondest memory of Miss Lou? Tell us your favourite poem/song/quote in the comments section below!