Wednesday, 29 October 2014

CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK: Why Venus is the season's must-see + Hefty star power elevates Destiny

FULL HOUSE: These days well-made and worthwhile Jamaican movies are few and far between, and when they do appear they often come laden with sketchy acting talent plucked from all over. Jeremy Whittaker's coming-of-age tale Destiny is the latest of the lot, but thankfully the talents that get showcased are more quality than questionable. Having long shown that his gifts go further than the recording studio (he did a commendable job in 2006's Amen Corner at Centrestage), Chris Martin (sharing most of his scenes with female lead Karian Sang) makes ample use of the opportunities he gets to shine, displaying a laid-back natural style we don't always get to see in his music videos. With a film role now under his belt and an upcoming album from VP Records, we're intrigued to see what Chris will do next. And speaking of familiar faces, who knew Spice could act? Providing much comic relief as the no-nonsense baby mama intent on securing her young son's inheritance, the dancehall diva delivers a fierceness that could catch the eye of serious casting directors. Meanwhile, some of theatre's finest help to balance things out in the film. Munair Zacca banks a hefty chunk of screen time as a high-powered attorney specializing in results; Makeda Solomon turns on the waterworks as Martin's emotionally fragile big sis, and it was a real hoot to see Noelle Kerr bring the crazy and Nadean Rawlins decked out in full officer gear making a cameo as a traffic cop. Talk about playing against type! And, as I stated in my full-length review of the film (read it here), Sabrina Colie, who play's Sang's street-smart cuz Mystic, is a gem of a discovery who deserves to be better known. 

PLAY ON: Venus has everything a great play should: humour, spectacle, brilliant dialogue and puts forward solid arguments about humanity, race and class. But bringing it all together is perhaps the most important ingredient of all — sharp, memorable performances that keep audiences enthralled. This latest School of Drama major production absolutely satisfies. Buoyed by the sheer manic energy of their supporting players, Venus' trio of lead actresses deliver such impassioned work on the stage that you quickly forget you're watching students who are still studying the acting craft. In other words, the girls outshine the boys in this one. I'm talking about Eden Gibson (who brings such resolve and remarkable poise to the titular role), Danielle Jones (the play's antsy narrator who's job it is to explain the story's wider historical context and the more complex parlances) and, in a rollicking combo of the two, Samantha Thompson, as a controlling mother hen who is all about her coins. (Think Queen Latifah's Mama Morton in Chicago). As much as TALLAWAH is always pleased when the School of Drama shines the spotlight on original Jamaican works, bold pieces with universal appeal, very much like this Suzan-Lori Parks masterpiece, are always welcome. Venus is on again this coming weekend at the Dennis Scott Theatre, and I wholeheartedly recommend that you go see it. 

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BOOK WE LIKE: Ode to Miss Lou puts a refreshing spin on our legacy and language

COVER TO COVER: Davis' book inspires reflection on our greatest cultural heroine.

A breezy new pageturner for culture buffs and collectors is Ode to Miss Lou: From the Soul of Dr. Sue (Words 2 Print Media Group) by Susan Lycett Davis Ed.D, which pays humorous and heartfelt tribute to the memory and legacy of Louise Bennett Coverley.

In some 50 poems honouring what the late folklorist gave us, the island that birthed her, and our native tongue, Davis delivers witty and clever verse that not only inspire reflection but manage to speak more broadly about who we've become as a people and where we are heading triumphantly, as we look to the next 50 years and beyond.

Among the highlights "Mek Patois Reign", "Now-a-days Hairdresser" and "I Am Jamaica" — sturdy and well-crafted pieces that capture fascinating aspects of island life. How blessed we are as a people is what you'll think about while reading Ode to Miss Lou.

But don't just take my word for it. Comedy king Oliver Samuels, one of our living legends who knew Miss Lou best, delivers the introduction and endorsements come from icons like Easton Lee. "Those of us who have been influenced directly by the Hon. Miss Lou, as well as Jamaicans everywhere, owe her our gratitude. She opened our eyes and our ears to what's truly and uniquely Jamaican," Lee says. "So Dr. Sue, we welcome this new book and companion CD that so radiantly capture the spirit and essence of Miss Lou."

> For more on Davis and her work, visit

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Tuesday, 28 October 2014

ON THE RECORD: Carlene Davis reflects on her latest project — and finding inner peace

GOLDEN NOTES: "It's been five years in the making," the songstress says of her bold new album.

One of Carlene Davis' favourite tracks on her new album, Dripping Blood, is "All About You," a poignant collabo with her talented and gorgeous daughter Naomi. But this is not the first time the mother-daughter pair have teamed up to create musical magic. As it turns out, Naomi has appeared on quite a few tracks in her mom's vast catalogue and even joined her on tour to share the stage. With the all-grown-up Naomi having emerged as fierce solo star on her own, could a family double act be on the horizon?

At her recent album launch at Redbones in St. Andrew, Davis hinted to TALLAWAH that the twosome have been busy cooking up something together. "We started doing some stuff in the studio a while back," Davis confided. "But she's in Canada now pursuing some advanced studies, so hopefully when she comes home for Christmas we can continue where we left off."

For Carlene Davis, an artist whose renown precedes her, album number 10 feels like a new beginning in the creative sense. "I just feel very relieved that people are finally getting to hear it," she admits. "It's been five years of going at it. Sometimes I get very critical of myself, but while working on the album there came a point where I just left it alone and said, God, it's over to you."

That sort of perfectionist streak has borne irresistible fruit for Davis in the past, and Dripping Blood continues her winning streak. Equal parts reflective and energetically rousing, it's a spirit-lifting record which yields several repeat-worthy highlights. (Be on the look out for the full album review.) 

But what's up with the album's title? "A lot of people don't like to go there," Davis observes, referring to the strong, visceral imagery. "But it's real, and we need to declare that the blood of Jesus has already been shed for us so that we can be forgiven of all our sins, all of our pain." She continues, "When you move into that wisdom and feeling of purpose amazing things happen." 

> Launch Report: Davis and friends celebrate new album at Redbones

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Monday, 27 October 2014

PLAY TIME: Venus weaves a satisfying blend of satire, history and spectacle

AIN'T I A WOMAN? Eden Gibson in a star-making turn as the Venus Hottentot. Below,  another scene from the play.

If there's one thing audiences love more than spectacle it's scandal. You get healthy servings of both in Venus, the School of Drama's latest theatrical offering based on the acclaimed play by Suzan-Lori Parks, who created history in 2002 when she became the first Black woman to win a Pulitzer Prize for Drama (for Topdog/Underdog).

Alongside the scandal, the spectacle and the occasional show-stopping sizzle, it's history of different stripe that plays out in Venus, which spins the based-on-real-life-events story of Sarah Saartjie Baartman, who is 1810 is practically kidnapped from her native South Africa and taken to London (and later Paris) to be showcased as an oddity. You see, Venus (later branded the Venus Hottentot) is no ordinary girl, blessed as she is with an enormously plump derriere that demands more than a double take. It's quite an asset. As Mother Showman (a superb Samantha Thompson), who runs the "freak show" where men come to view and ogle Venus for a fee, points out, "You are a native Negro with a remarkable spanker they pay to see."

As one can imagine, it takes immeasurable willpower and courage for Venus (played with splendid conviction by Eden Gibson) to maintain her sense of dignity in the face of the physical abuse and mental anguish heaped on her. But at her core, Venus proves she's more goddess than doormat, and this becomes especially obvious when she encounters and is seduced by The Baron Docteur/The Man (Shamar Bruce) who offers to rescue her from her terrible fate. But can he ultimately save her from herself? In any case, it's a serious case of "the kindness of strangers" that we witness, and it's a perfect plot point that Lori-Parks drives home loud and clear.
A fantastic storyteller with a flair for the dramatic, humour and satire, the playwright succeeds in fashioning a hugely entertaining piece of writing for the theatre (and history class) out of Sarah's tragic true story — imbued with a sense of empathy and respect for what she went through as girl who is robbed of her innocence just as she was discovering that it's hers to lose. Venus also boasts a solid narrative framework, fair lighting and a decent set, but the play's overarching carnival motif becomes a tad tedious after a while.

Still, director Alude Mahali manages to give this eye-opening tale a deft rendering, eliciting committed performances from the leads (kudos to Thompson and Danielle Jones as the Negro Resurrectionist) and chorus members. As the beleaguered Venus, Gibson proves she's a gem-in-the-making, rendering her monologues with emotional precision — even when delivering impossible lines like, "To hide your shame is evil. I show mine. Want to see?" Tyrone's Verdict: B+

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LION IN WINTER: Musgrave gold medallist Anthony Winkler on aging, the writing life, and his next book

STAGE PRESENCE: Winkler accepting his plaque citation from Custos Marigold Harding at the IOJ-hosted ceremony.

Though he now walks with a limp and his speech is slightly slurred, novelist Anthony Winkler's mind is as razor-sharp as ever. The celebrated 73-year-old author of such Jamaican classics as The Painted Canoe, The Lunatic, and 2013's award-winning and genre-bending historical narrative God Carlos was among the honorees bestowed with a gold Musgrave medal this past Wednesday at the Institute of Jamaica, where the master storyteller spoke with TALLAWAH about making his contribution to the island's literary culture, his (very) eventful Cornwall College years, and how he really feels about his legacy and growing older.

TALLAWAH: Marlon James says you are our Mark Twain. How do you feel about that kind of comparison?
Anthony Winkler: That's his opinion, but Mark Twain was a very good writer, so to be compared to him is a big honour.

TALLAWAH: In your experience, does storytelling get easier you grow older?
A.W.: For me, as you get older, you get less able to work as hard as you used to. That's about it.

TALLAWAH: Do you look back on your Jamaican childhood with fondness. I'm referring especially to your Cornwall College days.
A.W.: My Cornwall College days were very difficult. I was expelled over refusing to take caning. Cornwall College had a culture of bullying and they had imitated the Englishman to an excess. The headmaster said, 'Winkler, I'm going to have to cane you' and I said, 'Well, we're going to have to fight'. And he said, 'Well, leave the college then.' So I was expelled.

TALLAWAH: Countless esteemed Jamaican authors look to you as an influence. Who rank among the Jamaican writers you've always saluted?
A.W.: We have produced some very good writers, and I admire some of them like Vic Reid. He's not very well-known nowadays, but he wrote The Leopard, which I think is a masterpiece.

TALLAWAH: What are you reading now?
A.W.: I'm reading up on the 16th century. I'm writing a book about God and about meeting God.

TALLAWAH: So how's that going?
A.W.: I can't tell you till I'm finished. (Laughs).

TALLAWAH: Among all your novels do you have a favourite?
A.W.: The Painted Canoe. My first book; my baby. I worked hard on it. I wrote it around my very tight schedule at Moneague Teachers' College. I would come home in the night after my evening classes, and I'd pick up the typewriter and begin to write. And this went on for two years. Some days I was so tired I could hardly get into the room.

TALLAWAH: So what do you want your legacy to be ultimately?
A.W.: I don't think much about my legacy. I just hope that when I leave this earth, they'll say, 'Well, he tried his best.'

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Saturday, 25 October 2014

CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK: Pierre LeMaire won't direct 2014 pantomime + Cherry Natural readies poetry collection + JMTC planning big summer splash

REVIVAL MODE: Hard to believe, but the Jamaica Musical Theatre Company (JMTC) hasn't put on a major production since 2009's Dreamgirls, while their younger counterparts over at Jamaica Junior Theatre continue to churn them out in rapid succession, mounting in recent times crowd-pleasers like Aladdin and Alice. But, as it turns out, the seniors refuse to be outshone and are presently getting their mojo back. Enter David Tulloch, who has been appointed the JMTC's new Artistic Director — and he means business. First up on the agenda in "reviving" the troupe is overseeing the crafting of At the Barricades, a loose adaptation of Les Miserables, scheduled to take the theatre world by storm next summer. "I'm in the hot seat," the super-busy director tells TALLAWAH. No kidding. Meanwhile, the pace-setting junior theatre is maintaining their lead with the much-anticipated Nesta's Rock (currently in rehearsals), chronicling aspects of the Bob Marley story, set to premiere in Kingston in January. 

LYRICAL WARRIOR: You can say this for Cherry Natural: she's ever embarking on bold new pursuits as she keeps the creative juices flowing. The outspoken poet-performer known for her hard-hitting lyrics and passionate performances, informs TALLAWAH that a to-be-published collection of her poems is well in the works. Though the release date is yet to be decided on, the anthology could be headed to bookstores by early 2015. Cherry Natural's last release, the hit CD Intellectual Bad Gal, featured rousing fan favourites like "Long Time Poets Ah Write" and "Fight Back." 

ON THE MOVE: MoBay's Fairfield Theatre community has received an injection of vibrant new blood, with the arrival of actors/codirectors Nadean Rawlins and Suzanne Beadle — both of whom we hear now live and work in the west. Already the ladies' collaborative efforts have borne fruit, thanks to the success of their version of Her Last Cry (running through month-end), Dahlia Harris' provocative domestic drama, which had a sold-out run in Kingston a few months ago, with a cast including Harris herself and Tesfa Edwards, as a couple whose rocky marriage takes a violent turn..... In other theatre news, Pierre LeMaire says he will not be calling the shots on set for this year's LTM National Pantomime, Princess and Boonoonoonoos. Without going into details in his recent chat with TALLAWAH, the director (who helmed last season's The Golden Macca Fat), pointed to "creative differences" among the factors influencing his decision. 

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JMTC'S Doug Bennett: Nesta's Rock, the Marley musical, will be 'great fun'

SUPER DAD: Bennett and daughters Fiona and Katrina sharing a proud family moment at King's House. Below, a Bob Marley art sketch.

For the 85-year-old Doug Bennett, it would seem that his life in the theatre has come full circle yet continues to flourish. Lately, the Jamaica Junior Theatre Company, which he founded back in the eighties as a companion troupe to the Jamaica Musical Theatre Company (and continues to serve as Chairman), is hard at work, aiming to create a masterpiece with their forthcoming 2015 show, Nesta's Rock, debuting in January.

The biggest thrill for Bennett about the whole thing is not just in getting to bring this thoroughly modern and original musical production about the young Bob Marley to Jamaican audiences, but in the opportunity for the company to team up with Tuff Gong International and, by extension, the Marley clan. "We are all delighted that the JMTC is partnering with them," Bennett tells TALLAWAH. "They had seen what a very fine job we made of Aladdin, and when they saw that they invited us to join with them in sort of recognizing Bob Marley as a youngster."

Of course, Bob's meteoric rise from humble beginnings in Nine Mile and Trench Town to global superstardom will figure heavily in the story and is a genius idea for a show, but the aim, the Chairman emphasizes, is to mine something deeper.

"It's not just about him being a youngster but about the sort of life he led and how he solved his problems with music. That's the thinking behind it," explains Bennett, later pointing out that Nesta's Rock will mark the company's 157th production and will draw on the combined efforts of the enthusiastic junior theatre actors, singers and dancers and their senior JMTC counterparts. "I think it's going to be great fun. The cast is on a very hard rehearsal schedule and the performers are getting deeper and deeper into it."

Green-lighting a Bob Marley musical aside, the highlight of Doug Bennett's year has got to be the National Order of Distinction (Commander Class) he was presented with at King's House earlier this week, while getting to share the grand moment with the two people dearest to his heart — daughters Fiona Machado and Katrina Marzouca. "It means a great deal to me because I've spent a lot of time in theatre, and I've seen the Jamaica Musical Theatre Company build up theatre in Jamaica for both the adults and the youngsters," he reflects. "We've given a great deal of money to charity, we've won a lot of awards, but what's truly wonderful is what we've been able to create for the young people." 

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STILL IN THE GAME: Football remains a life's passion for iconic sportsman Danny Lyn

ON THE BALL: Lyn (right) being presented with his award at the 2014 Bell/Ziadie Memorial. Below, action from the field.

In recent times, the organizers of the long-running and annual Bell/Ziadie Memorial football fiesta have a made a point of honouring notable figures who've made immense contributions to the growth and development of football as a national sport. This year they couldn't have honoured a man more deserving than Danny Lyn, the legendary sportsman whose name is practically synonymous with the Constant Spring football mini-stadium and the namesake club that has been a fixture in the local leagues for ages.

By his own admission, for Lyn it's always a pleasure being acknowledged by his peers for the strides he's made and to be cited among the all-time greats of Jamaican football. But the Heroes' Day occasion at Winchester Park held special significance for him, in that it was a chance to share anew in the memory and legacy of Dennis Ziadie and Winston 'Jackie' Bell — and reflect on his journey with the late stalwarts.

"I knew both players very well, and we did great together. Jackie was actually a coach of mine at one point, and I know the entire Bell family," Lyn tells TALLAWAH, as the fiesta teams (a mix of veterans, sponsors and celebrities) prepare to take the field for another match-up. "So it feels good to be recognized [by this event] as an old boy, for one, and as someone who has helped develop the sport in Jamaica."

At 67, Lyn is still going strong — even spearheading expansion plans at Constant Spring (currently in "rebuilding" mode) and seeing to the upgrading of the mini-stadium. "I'm glad to still be active and looking to the future," he concedes, adding, "I will continue to help the sport for as long as I can. It's a passion of mine, and as far as I am concerned, [football] will always be around, and I'd like to be a part of it."

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Friday, 24 October 2014

PRIDE OF A NATION: Cultural giants get their due at National Honours and Awards

ALL HAIL THE QUEEN: Marcia Griffiths, flanked by Vance and Sherman Carter, moments after receiving the National Order of Distinction.

In front of a hundreds-strong throng, and with the rest of the nation enjoying live coverage from the comfort of their homes, scores of distinguished men and women solidified their place in the pantheon of extraordinary Jamaicans on Monday (Heroes Day) as King's House, in partnership with the government, acknowledged their contributions with national honours and awards.

Among the lot an impressive number of luminaries from the arts community, who stood shoulder to shoulder with newly installed members of the Order of Jamaica, namely Reverend Charles DuFour, Senator K.D. Knight, Professor Joseph Frederick, Dr. Karl Wellington, Florizelle O'Connor and Glen Mills.

TALLAWAH was particularly pleased that the spotlight was being shone on the Jamaica Musical Theatre Company's Doug Bennett, acclaimed artist Laura Facey Cooper, dance icon Patsy Ricketts, eminent academic Prof. Rupert Lewis and reggae's enduring supersongstress Marcia Griffiths (resplendent in lavender) all of whom were conferred with the Order of Distinction in the rank of Commander.

Among the Officer Class honorees, loud cheers and applause greeted musician Dwight Pinkney, ace sound system selector Winston 'Wee Pow' Powell, gender and development specialist Dr. Glenda Simms and historian Dr. Laura Tanna (a vision in blue). Meanwhile, adding moments of tuneful splendour to the proceedings were tenor Commander John McFarlane and soprano Ana Strachan, who offered a note-perfect take on "Climb Every Mountain" from The Sound of Music.

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FACES IN THE CROWD: The King's House lawns brimmed with star power on Heroes' Day

Awards recipients weren't the only ones making their presence felt at the 2014 National Honours and Awards ceremony at King's House on Monday morning. Here's just a handful of the noted personalities TALLAWAH captured while making the rounds.

STRENGTH IN NUMBERS: At ceremony's end, PM Portia Simpson-Miller was invited to informally meet the awardees, including this sizeable cohort of new Order of Jamaica members, among them Rev. Charles DuFour, Florizelle O'Connor, Senator K.D. Knight, Dr. Karl Wellington, and Glen Mills.

GIRL WONDER: Eleven-year-old Tricia-Ann Miller (centre) received a gallantry medal for performing the courageous act of rescuing two young boys from a burning house in Church Pen, St. Catherine, last May. "I want to become a firefighter," she told TALLAWAH after the King's House ceremony, where she was accompanied by relatives and Church Pen residents Judene Cunningham, Christi Cia and Sharon Bailey (left), who told us, "The whole community is proud of her."

FINE COMPANY: The JLP's Olivia 'Babsy' Grange (right) representing the Leader of the Opposition, shared a moment with honorees Marcia Griffiths, Vivienne James-Castro, and Sylvera Castro following the investiture ceremony.

LADY BE GOOD: Songstress Carole Reid was resplendent in a pop of bright colour.

LISTENING EAR: Education minister Rev. Ronald Thwaites caught up with Sonia Jackson.

MAN OF THE PEOPLE: Thwaites' colleague government minister Robert 'Bobby' Pickersgill was spotted greeting attendees.

POWER PLAYERS: IFNA boss Molly Rhone and Mike Fennell of the Jamaica Olympic Association showed support for this year's crop of honorees. 

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Thursday, 23 October 2014

GETTING HER DUE: Artist Laura Facey Cooper on her national honour and what's next

SUPPORTING ROLES: The artist and her boys — husband Gordon and sons Lee and Sam — at King's House.

When Laura Facey Cooper agreed to mount an exhibition of her most recent work in London this past September, she didn't know what to expect. But so successful was the show that it inspired an unprecedented creative move on her part. "The show was simply amazing, and it was so well received that it sparked the making of my my first i-art book, which is a digital publication of my work," reveals the award-winning Facey Cooper, famous for her stunning carvings in wood. Titled Radiant Earth, the digital publication recently went on sale and more or less confirms the artist's commitment to taking her career in fascinating new directions. Can the proper recognition be far behind?

Given the incredible spirit of excellence that has always defined Facey Cooper's work, it was only a matter of time before the noted sculptor (whose most well-known pieces include Emancipation Park's Redemption Song) was conferred with one of those prestigious national honours handed out every Heroes' Day. In fact, as we speak she has only moments ago made her exit from the podium at King's House, where she was among an impressive number of arts-community stars honoured by Sir Patrick Allen with the Order of Distinction (Commander Class).

For Facey Cooper, one of the very few women visual artists to be so recognized by the country, the moment represented an unqualified endorsement of her life's work. "It really is a validation of what I've done, but I feel like I have so much more to give," she confesses, standing alongside her husband Gordon and adult sons, Lee and Sam. "This gives me the encouragement to go on."

And by that she means reprising her participation in the National Gallery of Jamaica's upcoming Jamaica Biennial blockbuster exhibition, the all-important showcase set for December, which traditionally features cream-of-the-crop contemporary talents this year's cohort expanded to include several overseas participants. And what's next for Laura Facey Cooper could also mean a minor detour into filmmaking. "I'm possibly going to do a documentary," she tells TALLAWAH, beaming, "which is about the transformation that has happened to me and what I'd like to share in the hope that it will inspire others." 

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PREMIERE LEAGUE: Fearless dedication, distinguished contributions paid off for these Jamaican stalwarts

WORLD'S BEST: Head coach of the Racers' Track Club, Glen Mills, received the Order of Jamaica (OJ) for outstanding contribution to track-and-field through the coaching of top athletes. On what sets him apart from other coaches, he told TALLAWAH, "I've been blessed. I work hard and my methods work." 

TAILOR MADE: Impeccably attired for the occasion, Neville Bell was recognized with the Order of Distinction (Officer Class) for sterling contribution to football coaching and sports commentary. 

TRUSTED SOURCE: Veteran media man Owen James was conferred with the OD for years of dedicated work in the field of journalism. 

CLOSE UP: "I'm really thrilled that my work in highlighting Jamaica has been recognized," said a beaming Dr. Laura Tanna OD, cited for invaluable contribution to literature and culture. 

CLOSER THAN A BROTHER: A family photo-op was in order for Rev. Charles DuFour, whose sister Joy was on hand for his appointment as a member of the Order of Jamaica. 

BUILT TO LAST: For his more than 20 years of distinguished service to the Jamaican parliament, politician Rudyard Spencer made the leap from Officer Class to Commander of the Order of Distinction. 

FAMILY TIME: CD honoree Chris Zacca's son, Ryan, played shy while posing with dad, Ashley Zacca and Jillian Zacca at King's House. 

GIRL POWER: Gender and development specialist Dr. Glenda Simms OD (centre) brought along her own cheerleading squad, including good girlfriends Joan Bogle and Yvonne Hynes. "I feel on top of the world!" an elated Dr. Simms told TALLAWAH

ON THE BALL: Well-known in local football circles, Boys Town's Andrew Price was honoured with the OD for outstanding service in the development of the sport nationally. 

TRUE ORIGINALS: Key players in the development of indigenous Jamaican music, OD honorees Dwight Pinkney (left) and Phil Chen got a show of support from friend Donna DeMercado.

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