'Merri' send-off, stage show, session - Winston 'Merritone' Blake's life celebrated at Hope Gardens
The sung voicemail greeting by Winston Churchill Laughton Blake, OD, was a starting point for Clyde McKenzie's opening tribute to him on Saturday. It was also the basis of the Rev Astor Carlyle's sermon close to the end of the formalities at Hope Gardens, St Andrew. As the sun went down, the send-off became a stage show, then in the night, a session. The music was played by the sound system bearing the name Blake and was as well known as the ones on his birth - and death - certificates.
McKenzie identified the voicemail tune as 'Winnie the Pooh's' adaptation of His Eye is on the Sparrow and described the sound system selector's insistence on greeting as many people as possible at the many funerals they attended together. Blake had one complaint. "He found them so dead. For him, a funeral should be a celebration of life, not an exaltation of death."
HUNDREDS IN ATTENDANCE
Carlyle had the recording played, Blake's voice carrying to the hundreds in attendance. "On the answering machine of our lives, Winston has left several messages," Carlyle said. Among them are love and peace. The pastor asked those in attendance what message would they leave on the answering machine of their lives.
Carlyle played another role, singing Tarrus Riley's She's Royal as the first performer in the concert which followed Kelli Blake's expressions of gratitude. There were tears from another Blake, Winston's brother, Trevor, as he read Psalm 23.
There was music during the formalities, Pam Hall singing To Sir With Love, Fab Five Band presenting Jah Is My Keeper, and Orville 'Bagga' Case singing to the Heavenly Father.
Tributes came from the Jamaica-Cuba Friendship Association, Custos of St Thomas Marcia Bennett, and the Kingston College Old Boys' Association, Blake having contributed to his alma mater by playing at fundraisers in Jamaica and overseas for free.
While extolling Merritone's contribution to Jamaica's cultural product, government ministers Audley Shaw and Olivia Grange also recalled personal contact with Blake. Grange remembered him as one of the entertainers participating in a West Kingston programme, walking everywhere and giving his "inspiration and his knowledge".
Opposition Leader Portia Simpson Miller assessed the turnout as testament to Winston Blake "living good with the majority of Jamaicans and most of the people he came in contact with". There was also a presentation to the Princess Margaret Hospital in St Thomas from the Connecticut, USA, connection with Merritone.
Predominantly members of the Jamaica Association of Vintage Artistes and Affiliates performed at the stage show hosted by Norma Brown and Michael Hall. Ernie Smith, Georgia Henry, Charmaine Limonius, Sim1 (on flute), Dean Fraser, Mary Isaacs, Angella Stewart, the Jamaica Folk Singers, St Richard's Primary's Early Break Band, Carlene Davis, the Pembroke Hall High School Band, Errol Lee, Boris Gardiner, Michael Pinnock (steel pan), Junior Sinclair, Elaine Peart, Junior Bailey (who did a blues song), Bongo Herman, Deh Deh, Mannaseh, Althea Hewitt, Tinga Stewart and Colin Shirley, who did Sinatra's My Way, all did a song for Blake.
Closing the performances with a ska version of Amen, bass guitar player Frankie Campbell said, "We hand you over to the sound of Winston ..." and paused. "I was about to say the sounds of Winston Blake and Merritone," he said.
Guest selector Gladdy Parker got the music going. Others slated to play were Winston 'Wee Pow' Powell and Bunny Goodison, joining Merritone's Craig Ross and Mikey Thompson.