Dr. Louise Bennett-Coverly

Folklorist / Performer / Author, Toronto, ON. Born: Kingston, Jamaica.

The Hon. Dr. Louise Bennett-Coverley, otherwise affectionately known by her stage name “Miss Lou”, was Jamaica’s foremost and most renowned folklorist, writer and storyteller. Known and admired the world over, she is credited with having created acceptance for the Jamaican dialect and, through her artistry (seen in acting, broadcasting, theatre, literature and poetry), elevating it as a legitimate form of speech, which is representative of a key component of Jamaican culture.

Highlights: Born in 1919 in then-colonial Jamaica, Miss Lou began writing, then performing, verse in dialect from the age of 13 – at a time when standard English was considered the norm and the ideal to which most people aspired. She began acting in 1936, while in high school, and was spotted by impresario Eric Coverley (who would later be-come her husband). In 1945, she won a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London. While there and still a student, she hosted the live radio show, Caribbean Carnival on the BBC. During a second stay in London, she hosted another program for the BBC, West Indian Guest Night, which introduced emerging West Indian talent. In Jamaica, her verses, written in dialect, were published in The Daily Gleaner; she also performed them onstage and on-radio along with her prose monologues. She hosted radio shows, Laugh with Louise and Miss Lou’s Views, which were on the air for 15 years, as well as Lou and Ranny. Onstage she appeared in a number of productions including the annual Jamaican Pantomimes, from 1943 until 1971, without interruption; retiring from the stage in 1975. For 12 years, beginning in the 1970s, Miss Lou hosted a popular TV program, Ring Ding, which allowed children from all parts of the country to participate and showcase their talent in the performing arts. In 2003, she hosted another edition of Ring Ding, produced in Jamaica. Her film credits include Calypso and Club Paradise; while her song, “Going Home”, used in the film Milk and Honey, was nominated for a Genie Award. In 1989, Louise was appointed Ambassador-at-Large for Culture by the Jamaican Government. Over the years, she has performed and lectured throughout the world, promoting Jamaican history and culture, and creating awareness and pride among Jamaicans for their folk stories and songs. Her works are said to “have a sophisticated and subversive, political dimension and pillory both pretension and self-contempt. They ridicule class and colour prejudice, and criticize people ashamed of being Jamaican or ashamed of being Black.” (Gazette, York University, 1998)

Honours: Several including, Member of the Order of Merit for her distinguished contribution to the development of the Arts & Culture, Jamaica, 2001; inclusion in Who’s Who in Black Canada (1st & 2nd editions, 2000 & 2006); recognized by the International Theatre Institute, Jamaica Chapter, as the “Most Important Theatre Personality of the 20th Century” (2000); Member of the Order of the British Empire for her work in Jamaican literature and theatre; Norman Manley Award for Excellence; Order of Jamaica for work in the field of Native Culture; Honorary Degree of Literature, York University (1988) and University of the West Indies (1982); Gold Musgrave Medal for contribution to the development of the arts in Jamaica & the Caribbean (1978).

Works: Recordings: Include Yes, M’Dear: Miss Lou Live (1983); The Honourable Miss Lou (1981); Carifesta Ring Ding (1976); Listen to Louise (1968); Miss Lou’s Views (1967); Jamaica Singing Games (1953); Jamaica Folk Songs (1953). Poetry: Jamaica Labrish (1966); Anancy and Miss Lou (1979); Selected Poems (1982). Other publications: Aunty Roachy Seh (1993); Laugh with Louise; and Anancy and Miss Lou.

Education: Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, England; St. Simon’s College; Excelsior College; Friends College for Jamaica.

Hero: Her mother, Kerene Robinson.

Motto: Use a smile to cover sorrow.

(September 7, 1919 – July 26, 2006)