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Story of the song: 'Give Thanks and Praises' lasts through the years

Published:Sunday | June 24, 2012 | 12:00 AM

Mel Cooke, Gleaner Writer

"Let us give thanks and praise to the father

For guiding us through 25 years of Independence."

Give Thanks and Praises, Roy Rayon's second of four Festival Song wins, was top of the heap in 1987, as it celebrated 25 years of Jamaica's Independence.

Now 25 years after that successful collaboration with Asley 'Grub' Cooper, OD, CD, Rayon is sure that the current celebratory song controversy would not have happened.

"The Festival Song was supposed to be the pulse and metronome of the society," Rayon said.

"All Independence activities would coalesce around the Festival song."

And that is what happened with Give Thanks and Praises.

The song was written for the competition, but also with the Independence landmark in mind, serving a dual purpose. But although it remains immensely popular a quarter century after being released, Rayon readily confesses that Give Thanks and Praises did not immediately grab him as did the 1985 winner, Love Fever, also written by Cooper.

"When I first heard, Love Fever there was a connection," Rayon said.

He first heard Give Thanks and Praises at Fab Five's Springvale Avenue, St Andrew, headquarters, Cooper playing the piano and singing. After nearly two months of daily rehearsals, Rayon was ready for the first Festival Song road show, where, after the spoken introduction, he hit the Fort Clarence audience with:

"Give thanks and praises

We are 25

Though the road was rocky and the hills were steep

Still we survive

We put we faith and trust in the Father

Who's keeping us alive

So give thanks and praises

We are 25."

The people were not overly impressed, as Rayon said "the response was OK". However, "after that it was a runaway train" as the road show made its way around the island.

By the time the last show in the National Arena was held, it was a done deal and Rayon remembers some people running outside, fearing the balcony would collapse as it flexed under the delirious dancing of the people upstairs.

Rayon's performance skills did not hurt (he has won Best Performer in the competition five times), and he points out that he was the right person to Give Thanks and Praises the full justice a songwriter looks for when selecting a singer for his or her song.

He had a special plan for the part in the song where he delivered:

"So put you han' inna de air an' praise him

For we pretty little island praise him

For the love in the nation praise him

Let all the people praise him

Praise him

Praise him

Wheel!"

Rayon duly wheeled, a special neckpiece with National Heroes on it fanning out to create a special moment.

Two lines have been adjusted to reflect passing times. From the year following the win Rayon started adjusting the introduction to give thanks for 26 years of Independence and he has continued the count since then, right up to the current 50th year. And he changed "we are twenty-five" to "we are still alive".

When Louise Bennett-Coverley visited Jamaica for the last time, Rayon remembers the reaction when he was announced. "When they said 'Roy Rayon' there was a surge towards the stage," he said. Then there was Nelson Mandela's visit to Jamaica, when all the other performers were facing the grandstand. "I turned to the bleachers and the stadium erupted!" he said.