What becomes a legend most? In the case of the late cultural titan Louise Bennett-Coverley it's hard to pinpoint exactly where to begin. The "tribute givers" who took to the microphone at a JCDC-sponsored "Evening with Miss Lou" cultural presentation in honour of the occasion of her 95th birthday (this past Sunday, September 7) at the Louise Bennett Garden Theatre voiced the very same predicament but did their absolute best to put into words what our dear Miss Lou meant to them and why they continue to join the rest of the Diaspora in celebrating her remarkable life, indelible national contributions to the arts, and her vast legacy.
"She was more than just a fat lady who told jokes; she played a very important role in Jamaica's development," recalled Barbara Gloudon, who enjoyed an easy rapport with Miss Lou back when the Pantomime Company was coming into its own as a national cultural force. "She was wonderful to us, and gave us so many things. This was a lady who had a certain vision for the country long before many people saw it. So let us vow to honour not a comedian but a woman of class and distinction."
Gloudon also drew attention to Miss Lou's love of solitude and just how religiously devout she was. "She would always carry with her in her pocket a copy of Daily Word. She was very protective of her faith." There was nothing secondary about Louise Bennett's onstage brilliance and charisma either, Gloudon further noted. "She was the greatest to work with. When she told you this was the way to do something, she was always right."
Actress Deon Silvera, in full bandana regalia, charmingly personified the great lady as the evening's hostess, surrounded on the stage by a bunch of enthusiastic school children who held on to her every word. As such, a Ring Ding vibe was what the evening most compellingly evoked. Throw into the mix a blend of storytelling (raconteur Amina Blackwood-Meeks at her best), folk music (the melodic and sprightly Scotia Singers doing the honours) and the recital of hilarious poems from the seminal Jamaica Labrish canon — Sheldon Shepherd on "Uriah Preach"; Weston Haughton offering "Love Letter" and a cackling Karen Harriott, who gave us her gleeful version of "Census Taker."
Rounding out the festivities: a costume competition, topped by a gorgeous young miss sporting a lavish bandana frock and headdress — and an appearance by Fae Ellington, who this year marks 40 years of journalistic excellence. She, too, had much for which to thank Miss Lou, reminiscing about the warmth and generosity, the Pantomime years, and highlights from the JBC era. "Miss Lou was a fantastic lady," Ellington concluded. "She influenced so many of us and opened a lot of doors."