ON May 25, six Jamaicans will be recognised with Musgrave medals by the downtown Kingston-based Institute of Jamaica for their contribution to the arts, science and literature.For the arts, reggae singer Freddie McGregor is the lone recipient. He is set to receive the silver Musgrave medal. There will be two recipients for literature: Tanya Shirley will receive a silver medal, while Dr Basil K Bryan will be awarded the bronze award.
In a statement McGregor said he is moved by the gesture, which, for him, is even more significant considering it is coming from the local arts community.
“To be given an award is really heart-warming for various reasons, as it a testament to the fact that reggae music is appreciated among all classes of Jamaicans, whether uptown, downtown, political or academic,” he said.
With more than 50 years in the music industry, McGregor is encouraging the new generation of artistes not become fixated on the glamourous side of the business, but place value on a authenticity, professionalism, dedication, and hard work.
The honour is also not lost on Shirley.
The writer and poet recalled how she felt when contacted by the Institute of Jamaica.
“I came home and saw the letter, and like all letters these days, I just thought it was a bill and tossed it aside to be opened the next day. I however did open it that night and when I read it I was shocked. I called my mother immediately and that's when it sank in. My fiancé Googled and when he saw that I was in the same category as Marlon James, we realised it was a really big deal,” she recounted.
For Shirley, meeting outgoing Poet Laureate Mervyn Morris and incoming Poet Laureate Lorna Goodison during her years at The University of The West Indies, Mona, sealed the deal for her that she could become a writer.
“I was always an avid reader. As a young girl, I competed with a friend to see if we could read a Nancy Drew a day. In high school I was introduced to creative writing, but never knew I could make a career out of this. So I spent my first year at university as a business major and only transferred to the Department of English in second year. I met like-minded people who showed me that it could be done. So I did my research, found postgraduate programmes, fellowships and workshops in a bid to strengthen my craft,” she said.
Shirley is currently working on a third book to complement her two previous works — She Who Sleeps With Bones and The Merchant of Feathers.
“My work is rooted in Jamaica with branches that extend to the world. So in my last collections I explored dancehall culture, for example, and had offered a look at issues from an urban experience. For the upcoming work I will deal with the idea of 'fluffy' through what is referred to as body poetics. I just want to continue sharing my work with people all over the world,” she added.
The other recipients are Professor Herbert Ho Ping Kong, who will receive the gold medal. Professor Daniel Coore, the silver medal; and Eleanor Jones, bronze. All are being awarded for science.
The Musgrave award was established in 1889 as a memorial to Sir Anthony Musgrave, governor of Jamaica, who founded the Institute of Jamaica in 1879.