Rt. Hon. Dr. Louise Bennett Coverley (1919 - 2006) - The National Library of Jamaica

Rt. Hon. Dr. Louise Bennett Coverley (1919 - 2006)

“From time to time in the history of a nation, there emerges someone on the national scene who seems to embody the very psyche of its people; capable of distilling, interpreting and expressing its collective wisdom, its hopes and its aspirations, its strengths as well as its weaknesses. In Jamaica, Louise Bennett is such a person.” (Corina Meeks, 1987)

Louise Simone Bennett-Coverley (Miss Lou) renowned poet, actress, social commentator, comedienne, folklorist was born on Sunday, September 7 1919 at 40 North Street, Kingston to parents Augustus Cornelius Bennett a baker and Kerene Robinson, a dressmaker.

She attended Ebenezer and Calabar elementary schools, St. Simon’s College, and Excelsior High School in Kingston. In 1945, she was awarded a British Council scholarship to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) in London, England.

In addition to her studies at RADA, Miss Lou hosted a weekly thirty-minute radio programme, Caribbean Carnival at the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). She also worked with repertory companies in other parts of the United Kingdom before returning to Jamaica. Miss Lou went to London in 1950 and again worked at the BBC hosting a one-hour show called West Indian Guest Night.

In Jamaica, Miss Lou taught speech and drama at Excelsior High School. She also found time to write her poems, folk songs, short stories and perform in plays and pantomimes.

Miss Lou moved to New York in 1953. Later that year, Eric Coverley went to New York on assignment with the Jamaican delegation to the United Nations. He reconnected with Miss Lou and there they co-directed a folk musical called Day in Jamaica. In the months that followed, Miss Lou and Eric spent much time in each other’s company at performances and parties. This resulted in their getting married on May 30, 1954.  The ceremony was held at St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Harlem.

Louise and Eric returned to Jamaica in 1955. They were both involved in the performing arts. Louise continued to write, broadcast and act. She worked for the Jamaica Welfare Commission as a drama officer. This job provided her with the opportunity to garner much information about Jamaican culture as she travelled to towns and villages across the country. She shared her insights with audiences at lectures, demonstrations, on radio, on television and on stage both locally and overseas. It is no wonder that Louise Bennett has been described as  ‘Jamaica’s most cherished national treasure’. Her many awards include:

  • Member of the British Empire (MBE), 1960
  • Silver Musgrave Medal, Institute of Jamaica 1965
  • Norman Manley Award for Excellence in the Arts, 1972
  • Order of Jamaica (OJ) 1974
  • Gold Musgrave Medal, Institute of Jamaica 1978
  • Honorary degree of Doctor of Letters from the University of the West Indies, 1983
  • Honorary degree of Doctor of Letters from York University, Toronto Canada, 1998
  • Order of Merit (OM) – Jamaica’s 3rd highest honour – 2001

Miss Lou and Eric raised many children including her stepson, Fabian Coverley and adopted daughters Christine, Althea, Odette and Simone. In 1987, Eric became very ill and so, at Fabian’s invitation, they migrated to Canada. Eric died there on August 7, 2002 and Miss Lou on July 26, 2006. She was buried on August 9, 2006 at the National Heroes’ Park, Kingston alongside the reinterred remains of her husband.

Miss Lou’s Room, a reading room and activity space for children at Harbourfront Centre in Toronto, was opened to the public in July 2007 on the first anniversary of her death.

Publications by Miss Lou include:

  • 1st book (Jamaica) Dialect Verses published 1942
  • 2nd book Jamaican Humour in Dialect published 1943
  • Selected Poems, 1982
  • Laugh with Louise: a pot-pourri of Jamaican folklore. [1991]
  • Aunty Roachy Sey 1993
  • Jamaica Labrish, 1996

A selection of Louise Bennett’s personal papers is available at the National Library of Jamaica. ‘Miss Lou Archives’ was launched in October 20, 2016. It contains previously unpublished archival material including photos, audio recordings, diaries and letters. The items were donated to the Library by Miss Lou as she prepared to take up residence in Canada.

More information about ‘Jamaica’s First Lady of Comedy’ is available at:

http://www.nlj.gov.jm/archives/Miss_Lou/index.html

http://jis.gov.jm/famous_jamaicans/louise-bennett-coverley/

http://www.ltmpantomime.com/pages/History/louisebennettbio.html