The Nun Who Nurtured Reggae

Now I think that if you asked people what religion they’d associate with Reggae, they’d probably say Rastafarianism rather than Roman Catholicism. However, it seems that the Roman Catholic church in Jamaica also had a role in bringing the world the mellow sounds of Reggae. Last Saturday, the BBC broadcaster and Reggae fan, Jonathan Charles, presented a programme, ‘The Nun Who Nurtured Reggae’ talking about the role of Sister Mary Ignatius Davies in fostering the music. She ran the music programme at the Alpha Cottage School for Wayward Boys in Kingston, Jamaica. Without her, the blurb for the programme in the Radio Times declared, ‘Reggae music might never have flourished’.

This came as a surprise to me. My knowledge of Reggae extends to Bob Marley and the Wailers, and UB40, so I’m absolutely no expert on it whatsoever. However, given the rock’n’roll lifestyle of excess and parental outrage, I’d always assumed that Reggae would be the type of music the Church would want to stop its charges playing, rather than encourage them. Obviously, I was totally wrong. I’m afraid I missed the programme, so I can’t tell you what it was like. Hopefully it’ll be repeated. On the other hand, the churches have been highly influential in fostering young musical talent amongst kids from poor or underprivileged backgrounds. I’ve got a feeling that one of South Africa’s great Jazz trumpeters was encouraged to play the instrument by his local Anglican priest, for example. Outside of the church, one of the greatest musicians of the 20th century, Louis Armstrong, was brought up in an orphanage. Arrested for brandishing a firearm in St. Louis, Satchmo’ could have been caught up in a life of crime and prison incarceration. Then someone gave him a clarinet.

And thus was born one of the greatest Jazzmen of the 20th century, and one of the instrument’s finest virtuosos. I’ve got a feeling Armstrong holds the world record for the number of top C’s played consecutively on a clarinet.

Sister Mary Ignatius Davies clearly did something similar for her kids in that school for boys in Jamaica. It probably raised a lot of kids out of poverty, but pop stars being pop stars they still remained ‘wayward’. Nevertheless, they created some great music and gave kids around the world a hope and enjoyment they probably would never have had.

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