Marcus Garvey and the performing arts
– Pt 1
(This is the first of a two-part article based on an interview with Rupert Lewis, the University of the West Indies (UWI) professor emeritus in political thought, who has produced three books and numerous articles on National Hero Marcus Garvey and is now writing “a short biography” on him.)
REGARD Garvey as a performing artist himself,” Professor Emeritus, Rupert Lewis said a week ago when I asked him about Garvey’s relationship with the performing arts.
Now Jamaica’s first National Hero is generally thought of in more sombre terms – as a visionary, philosopher, political leader, writer, publisher and founder of the pioneering Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA). However, Lewis offered loads of evidence for his assertion, beginning with Garvey’s interest in public speaking.
“He was very much into the art of public oratory, and there were parish competitions at the start of the 20th century, which he participated in and won some prizes. Some of his best friends in West Kingston, where he lived when he first came to the city, were also elocutionists and singers,” Lewis said.
They included the McCormack family. Two McCormack brothers, one a bass and the other one a tenor singer, were among the founding members of the UNIA. Lewis stressed that people who were in the performing arts were in the organisation at the outset.
He added: “The organisation functioned from the start and throughout Garvey’s life in a cultural programme, one deeply rooted in Jamaican traditions – church traditions, tea party traditions, educational and school traditions. The learning of poems and the articulation of the English language through poetry was the art form that he and others, like his first wife, Amy Ashwood Garvey, also a founding UNIA member, were very good at.”
Lewis also mentioned American Shakespearean orator Henrietta Vinton Davis (former secretary to the renowned abolitionist Frederick Douglass), who later became the international organiser of Garvey’s movement. Garvey met her when she came to Jamaica around 1912 to perform at the Ward Theatre and elsewhere in the island.
When Garvey went to the USA in 1916, he drew diverse musicians around him, including singers of classical and jazz music and instrumentalists. Garvey’s public talks were “always preceded or followed by performances”, Lewis said. “His very speech was a performance.”
Accompanying the elocution sessions were debate competitions on all kinds of topics. Amy Ashwood defeated Garvey in a debate at East Queen Street Baptist Church, Kingston. “She was quite good,” Lewis chuckled.
He said Garvey wrote what were called “poetic meditations”, composing them, for the most part, while imprisoned in Atlanta from 1925 -1927. They were performed both in the US and later when he returned to Jamaica.
Dye Dye Girls present Wait Yuh Turn at Badda Badda Place, Hennessy Pub, Gayle. Music by Exxtacy Sound, Tripple C, DJ U and Juff, and Pan a Knock.
Spot Light is at Spratters Corner, Ninth Street, Arnett Gardens. Music by Stone Love. Also featuring Tuff-ALie, and DHQ Sherene.
Today and every Friday Jackpot Sports Bar presents Come Drink With Me at 42 Giltress St, Rollington Town, Kgn 2. Every Fri and Sat, reduced prices on all drinks, lots of giveaways and free tokens to play slots.
This and every Friday, NK Deli and Salsa Society of Jamaica present Pre-Game Fridays, 2-4-1 Happy Hour, at New Kingston Conference Centre (upstairs New Kingston Business Centre). Free salsa classes at 6 p.m. Latin dancing continues until 10 p.m. Music by DJ Drizzy Dre and DJ Chan. Tel: 7548714.
Beer Links Family Annual October Party is at BeerLinks, Boscobel, St.Mary. Food & refreshments on sale. Admission free.
Alpha Academy Sports Department presents Fish Fry and After-Work Lyme at the school grounds, Alpha Academy. Serving starts at noon. Cost $1,200. Refreshments on sale
Simonese, in association with HW Wishart Family, present Seaview Invasion at Seaview, across from the primary school. Music by Black Champion International, Ratty Bones, and Slimmatic. Special guest artiste Dalia Lloyd.