‘My mother left an impact’
Acclaimed J’can songstress Karen Smith remembered in vibrant thanksgiving service
Many in the church wanted to cry, but remained strong in their conviction until saxophonist Dean Fraser played David Sanborn’s Lotus Blossom, leaving hardly a dry eye at Karen Smith’s thanksgiving service at the St James Parish Church on Wednesday morning.
Regarded in many different cultures as a symbol of purity, enlightenment, self-regeneration and rebirth, the lotus flower depicts the late singer, who had touched the souls of thousands through her musical prowess.
“Dean’s song choice made everybody cry. Courtni cried, and I cried,” said Jheanelle Jackson, Smith’s stepdaughter.
“I ran to the back of the church because I didn’t want everyone to see me crying. It was such a beautiful tribute, which really touched us as a family,” added Jackson’s twin sister, Jhanine.
For the sisters, who Smith treated as her own, the funeral was like a concert, in sync with what they envisioned would be the perfect farewell for the late musical maestro. “We really wanted music to be a big part of it (the funeral), so we chose some of her favourite hymns,” stated Jhanine.
Every song was intentional as well as the order of the service revealed the young women who refer fondly to Smith as ‘Aunty’.
A thanksgiving service for Karen Smith in a traditional Anglican church, where Smith’s mother Barbara played the organ for several years, had to be infused with some of the unique things the songbird was known for.
DiMario McDowell and Pam Hall paid tribute with Smith’s favourite song, Unforgettable. Their rendition of the original jazz compilation by Nat King Cole was well received by the people who travelled from near and far to celebrate Jamaica’s queen of soul.
‘Topsy turvy’ emotions
For Courtni Jackson, Smith’s daughter and best friend, her emotions were ‘topsy turvy’ driving into the churchyard, and although she almost lost it, she admits, she also knew she had to keep it together for her grandmother, Barbara, who broke down early during the service.
“I knew it wasn’t my time. I knew I had to be there for her. It was such a beautiful service. I was so emotional the whole time just to see all the outpouring of love from everyone. It truly showed me that my mother left an impact on so many people, not just us in her home.”
Jackson said she felt like she was at a Karen Smith concert a few times during the ceremony. “In fact, it took me back to the days where mom and I would just drive all around Jamaica, such as St Elizabeth, St Mary, all sorts of places to do some church concerts,” she told The Gleaner.
Jackson spoke of her mother as a light, who led by example. A mother who would also be giving her advice. But most important, she will remember Smith, she said, as her best friend.
Smith made such an indelible mark in the young woman’s life, so much so that she has already taken up the mantle. Not necessarily on the hotel circuit, but certainly reimagining singing. Already, she hears her mom singing to her through the birds that surround her regularly, and she is satisfied that her guiding light lives on in another realm.
“When I wake up in the mornings, I hear birds singing; the sounds are so close to my window, and I know that’s her telling me that I’m going to be okay and she’ll always be there with me, she’ll always be there for me. I won’t be able to pick up my phone on call her any more, but I know she will be available to me at all times,” said Jackson.
Smith’s friend and partner at several events, Gem Myers, was also in Montego Bay to celebrate the late songstress. Her tribute spoke to the happiness that Smith brought.
“Karen was always light and love and just being happy. So that was what this was all about today,” said Myers.