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42 Bahamian Cultural Legends Honoured in Grand Style
By Lindsay Thompson, BIS
Jul 10, 2015 - 12:02:33 PM

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TOP LEFT: The Hon. Obie Wilchcombe, Minister of Tourism, speaking at the 42nd Independence Anniversary Celebrations Honouring 42 Bahamian Legends, July 8, 2015 in Pompey Square. TOP RIGHT: The Rahming Brothers honoured as Bahamian Legends for their acapella style singing of traditional Bahamian gospel music. Pictured in the midst of the group is the Rt. Hon. Perry Christie, Prime Minister. BOTTOM LEFT: The Region Bells, honoured as Bahamian Legends for their unique harmonizing in singing of traditional Bahamian gospel music. Pictured with the group is the Rt. Hon. Perry Christie, Prime Minister. BOTTOM RIGHT: The Rt. Hon. Perry Christie, Prime Minister, delivering the keynote address. (BIS Photos/Letisha Henderson)

NASSAU, The Bahamas - In recognition of their contributions to the local and international entertainment industry, 42 Bahamians were honoured during an awards ceremony on Wednesday, July 8, 2015 as part of the 42nd Independence Anniversary Celebrations under the theme, “Our Children: Our Future”.

Pompey Square, named after the slave who lead a revolt against slavery, was transformed into an elegant ballroom bedecked with the national colours which added to the celebrations as awards in music, storytelling, dance, theatre, art, Junkanoo and poetry were handed out to the Cultural Legends.

An event organized by the Ministry of Tourism -- Prime Minister the Rt. Hon Perry Christie applauded the Minister of Tourism, the Hon. Obie Wilchcombe, for the “good work you have done” in honouring the legends and thus, telling their stories.

The honourees presented with a “Proclamation” designating them ‘Cultural Legends,’ were: Patrice Johnson, Viveca Watkins (posthumously), Leroy Cleveland “Smokey 007” McKenzie (posthumously), The Region Bells, The Rahming Brothers, The Cooling Waters, Sister Rachel Mackey, Paul Knowles (posthumously), “Fast Eddie” Dames, Terez Hepburn (posthumously), Bert Williams (posthumously), Johnny Kemp (posthumously), Richard “Sweet Richard” Dean (posthumously), Berkley Van Byrd (posthumously), Cyril “Dry Bread” Ferguson (posthumously), Eric Minnis, Pat Rahming, Kirkland “KB” Bodie, Eugene “Geno D” Davis, David “Funky D” Ferguson, Fred Ferguson, Ira Storr, Nehemiah Hield, Max Taylor, Frank Penn, Nita Ellis, Priscilla Rollins, Claudette “Cookie” Allens, Hope Curry, Phil Stubbs, Arlene Nash Ferguson, Abigail Charlow, Joanne Callender, Telcine Turner-Rolle, Greg Lampkin, Dr. George “Brother Barry” Barry, Rev JJ Stubbs, Veronica Bishop, Duke Errol Strachan, Alton Lowe, the Royal Bahamas Police Force Band and Terez “Dynamite Daisy” Davis.

Mr. Wilchcombe said it was 12 years ago that he heeded the Prime Minister’s call to tell Bahamian stories.

“Too many have died and their stories with them. We want many more stories told. We want to hear stories about the (likes) of Dry Bread, Sir Sidney Poitier, Johnny Kemp and Fred Ferguson who has never let his gift die,” he said.

Mr. Wilchcombe also acknowledged the young people who participated in the awards ceremony, particularly the Master of Ceremonies, Travis Robinson the Junior Minister of Tourism 2014; and the Church of God of Prophecy National Children’s Choir.

In his keynote address the Prime Minister said the State must find a way to institutionalize Bahamian culture and formally teach it in schools throughout the country.

And, as a strong advocate for The College of the Bahamas becoming the University of The Bahamas, he said the institution could play its role in preserving history so years from now, the stories would be documented and easily accessed.

Music by the Royal Bahamas Police Force Pop Band and a ‘Special Selection’ by Louis Cleare complemented the ceremony.  As each honouree was called up, portraits of themselves, drawn by Bahamian “Celebrity Artist” Jamaal Stubbs, were unveiled by the Royal Bahamas Defence Force Rangers.


42 Bahamian Legends Celebrated

Photo: Braxton Gardiner


Honourees; invited guests and friends, a pleasant good evening.

Last year around Christmas at the invitation of Minister Hope Strachan, I had the opportunity to speak at a public park renaming ceremony in the community of Sea Breeze. The park was renamed in honour of the former area Member of Parliament when it was Holy Cross and another Bahamian legend in the name of Charles Carter. During that address I told those gathered that as a government and as a people, we had to find a way to more properly honour our national heroes men and women who at great personal sacrifice spent their entire lives contributing to the embellished reputation, identity, growth and development of this country. Many of them at the time thought they were simply following and fulfilling their dreams. In doing so they inspired a generation, an entire country and enriched our cultural heritage.

I also said that the state must find a way to what I called institutionalize culture. By that I meant for us as a country to formally teach art, drama, song and other forms of indigenous artistic expression at our educational institutions. The organizers of the annual National Arts Festival and the Central Bank of The Bahamas are to be commended for their dedication and commitment to the arts and for giving so many young Bahamians a national platform for self expression.

I also wish to publicly thank my cabinet colleague, the Hon. Obie Wilchcombe for the good work he has done in documenting the life and work of some of our national treasures specifically Mychal Sweetbells Thompson in TRAILBLAZERS and the gentle giant, Major League slugger Andre Rodgers. Andres daughter, Gina Rodgers did an excellent job in writing, directing and producing those important documentaries. We need to do more of these for our national heroes. We must tell our stories.

Photo: Braxton Gardiner

Memorializing our legends is a formal way of documenting our history, our cultural development and better understanding our relationships with the world because many of our legends made their indelible marks on the international stage. Connecting their enormous influence to their Bahamian lineage inspires our people and gives greater meaning to national pride.

Take actor, comedian and singer Bert Williams for example. Born in Nassau, Bahamas in 1874, he migrated to the United States to become one of the defining personalities of the Vaudeville entertainment era and established a solid foundation on which African American entertainment was built.

From all documented accounts, Bahamian actor, comedian and singer Bert Williams was one of the pre-eminent entertainers of the pre 1920 Vaudeville era and one of the most popular comedians for audiences generally of his time. Additionally, he was by far the best-selling black recording artist before 1920. In fact in 1918, the New York Dramatic Mirror characterized Mr. Williams as "one of the great comedians of the world."

It is widely accepted that Bert was a principal personality in the development of African-American entertainment in the early twentieth century. Against the backdrop and uphill battle during an era when racial inequality and stereotyping were commonplace, Bert became the first black American to take a lead role on the Broadway stage, and in so doing, he did much to push back racial barriers during his long career. His white show business counterpart, the inimitable and fellow vaudevillian W.C. Fields, who appeared in productions with Williams, described him as "the funniest man I ever saw and the saddest man I ever knew."

Photo: Braxton Gardiner

The comedy team of Bert Williams and George Walker (Williams & Walker), enjoyed their greatest success at the turn of the twentieth century with   Sons of Ham, a broad farce most noted for its lack of the extreme "darkie" stereotypes which were then common during the Vaudeville era. One of the show's songs, "Miss Hannah from Savannah," even touched upon class divisions within the black community. At the height of his success, the pair began to transition away from the conventional racial minstrel to a more human style of comedy.

So in reaching the pinnacle of show business success internationally against tremendous odds, Bert Williams used the platform of art to effect social change and it did take a personal toll on him. It was men like Bert Williams who paved the way for another Bahamian luminary, Sir Sidney Poitier, who also used his platform to strike a blow for social justice and equality while creating greater opportunities for other blacks wanting to enter show business.

Besides Bert and Sir Sidney, Jonathan Johnny Kemp was another inspirational Bahamian success story. He took all that he had learned during his formative years in The Bahamas to New York City at the tender age of nineteen shortly after high school. That was 1979 and by 1986, Johnny had become one of the defining figures of the hip hop/ New Jack Swing era a musical genre that dominated American popular music during the 1980s. His signature smash hit, JUST GOT PAID became the dance anthem of the eighties. Where ever you were when you heard that song, or BIRTHDAY SUIT or JUST ANOTHER LOVER, you were inspired and filled with pride because you said to yourself or those around you, he is a Bahamian you know. Some of you were studying abroad during the eighties and readily owned Johnny among your friends, peers and colleagues.

Prints can be ordered through The Celebrity Artist (Photo: Braxton Gardiner)

These are but two of the forty-two legends being honoured tonight for their lifes work in the development of The Bahamas. We must recognize them; we must memorialize them; and yes we must continue to tell their stories.

Without telling our stories, future generations of Bahamians would have no way of knowing of the Bahamian connection with and influence on the Vaudeville and hip hop eras of entertainment for example. They would not come to appreciate the evolution of Junkanoo; the art form of storytelling or how Bahamian music became integrated with other musical art forms.

Later this month, on the 21st  and 23rd  July, the state will formally recognize the contributions of Klay and Mychal Thompson respectively for their athletic exploits on the basketball courts. There are only a hand full of father-son champions the most celebrated being Archie Manning and his sons Peyton and Eli Manning. Well you can add Bahamian Mychal and Klay Thompson to that elite grouping and their Bahamian connection fills us with national pride.

We will host a reception for Klay at the Melia Resort on the 21st  and a street naming ceremony in honour of Mychal will be held on the 23rd  at the entrance of the Thomas A. Robinson Stadium. Also, Mychals image will be memorialized on Legends Walk that concrete walkway leading to the national stadium.

It is my hope that this practice of officially honouring our people becomes habitual such that we do it often because each story of each Bahamian legend enriches the national tapestry that is the Bahamian identity.

Thank you and good evening.

Prints can be ordered through The Celebrity Artist (Photo: Braxton Gardiner)

(Photo: Braxton Gardiner)

(Photo: Braxton Gardiner)

(Photo: Braxton Gardiner)

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