Mel Cooke, Gleaner Writer
The late Dr Olive Lewin, founder of the Jamaican Folk Singers, has been accorded many honours before and after her death on April 10 this year. Among the former is the Order of Jamaica (OJ); prime among the latter is the Order of Merit (OM).
Although posthumous, Saturday's honour for Dr Lewin extended deeply into her living years. A plaque at her former home was unveiled at 8 Hillcrest Avenue, St Andrew, as a permanent marker of Dr Lewin's enduring presence.
And although there was high-level presence, including former Prime Minister Edward Seaga, and a spokesperson for Minister of Youth and Culture Lisa Hanna, the striking difference with Lewin's latest honour was that it did not come from a state-level mandate. Added to that was the deeply personal touch.
That was not lost on Dr Lewin's daughter, Major (Ret'd) Johanna Lewin, JP.
"This is private and personal," Lewin said, thanking the McDonald family for the gesture.
"They actually had a party for her (Dr Lewin) last year when she was alive. That was even better," Major Lewin said.
The house which holds many memories for Major Lewin ("I joined the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) when I was here") is unchanged externally, although she said there have been extensive internal changes. The block of buildings on which the plaque is mounted is new, Major Lewin saying that when she lived at 8 Hillcrest Avenue, mango and ackee were among the fruit trees there.
Major Lewin emphasised the richness of Jamaican folk music, noting that through the performances on Saturday "you only got a smattering of it here. Our music is completely original and she collected it. Out of it she arranged 200 of the songs for the Jamaican Folk Singers. Some of them you do not even have to hear the words to know what it is saying - how she arranged it you know the mood of the song".
The ceremony ended in the only way it could, with music. Guitarist Maurice Gordon and drummers Calvin Mitchell and Phillip Supersad included a touch of Bob Marley close to the end of their set, making way for Michael 'Ibo' Cooper on keyboards accompanied by a young female singer who sat beside him.
Major Lewin requested Masquerade and Cooper obliged, the proud daughter standing over the piano to sing and sway with him.
The three became the kernel of a group which formed around the piano, which was soon structured with the inclusion of the uniformed Jamaican Folk Singers. They requested Come Back Liza in slow tempo, to the accompaniment of piano and flute.
Major Lewin told The Gleaner she is hoping to keep her mother's publications going, given the requisite energy, input and finance. However, she made it clear that it is not a matter of venerating her mother, but "about our heritage and how amazing it is. We concentrate on the negatives, but we don't do enough work to build up pride in the things we have".