MEET PAULETTE REID-DENSON
As an International Women’s Day feature, we highlight a daughter of Trelawny whose contribution to her country has not been highlighted.
Meet Paulette Reid-Denson, born and grown in the southern town of Albert Town in the heart of the Cockpit Country.
This woman has had such a great impact on the cultural and artistic life of Trelawny and the rest of Jamaica, yet very few people know of her. Even those who know her hardly will know the contribution she has made to her country.
Indeed, the life of the now 60-year old bears testimony, so we will share just a few highlights of her “hyper-active” life.
THE JOURNEY BEGINS – PRE-TRAINED TEACHER AT AGE 17
Paulette has loved various aspects of art from a young age and a twist of fate led her to become a 17-year old pre-trained teacher.
Having left Albert Town to live in Falmouth to attend William Knibb Memorial High School, her family struggled to keep her in school, but by the 10th grade, she had to drop out of William Knibb.
With no employment and no school to attend, an Anglican Church pastor helped to get her employed as a pre-trained teacher at Albert Town Primary at the young age of seventeen. There, she taught the arts and education through arts. Now, this opened several doors as because of the shortage of art teachers at the time, the schools in the area were happy to give her part-time stints.
As a result, she was able to save and go back to complete her 5th form (11th grade) at William Knibb Memorial High School.
EDNA MANLEY COLLEGE OF THE VISUAL AND PERFORMING ARTS
Immediately after William Knibb, it was Youth Service, then it was off to the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts in Kingston, to pursue her love of dancing.
While at Edna Manly, Paulette met Jamaica’s most popular and iconic poet, folklorist, writer, and educator, the late Louise Bennett-Coverley, who is affectionately called Miss Lou. Paulette was fortunate to spend much time with Jamaica’s cultural heroine.
Paulette met Miss Lou as a result of doing community service in Gordon Town for her Edna Manly thesis. The thesis was based on using dance as a tool for community development.
As a result of being around Miss Lou and her husband, Paulette was honored to be taught the not so popular art form called “chalk talk.” This was taught to her by Eric Coverley, Mis Lou’s husband. Chalk talk is an art form where the art speaks for itself using chalk and chalkboard (hence Chalk Talk). In essence, someone speaks while using art in real-time to express what is spoken.
BACK HOME TO TRELAWNY
Now after leaving the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts in Kingston with her newfound training and experience, Paulette made a move to the parish of St. Mary, where she worked with the Social Development Commission (SDC). Then home came a-calling and she moved back home and worked with the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission (JCDC) in her home parish of Trelawny as Parish Cultural Officer.
FASHION AND MODELLING BUSINESS
As I said, Paulette led a hyperactive life. She ventured into several areas of the art world and through her many engagements, her endeavours took her all over the country of Jamaica.
Always seeking to explore other avenues in the art world, Paulette again diversified into another aspect of the arts. This time, she set up her fashion house and modeling business in Kingston.
Through this business, she designed attire for several popular entertainers at the time. As a fashion designer, she is credited as having made the funeral gown for Peter Tosh (of Bob Marley and the Wailers).
But there is something about teaching that always seems to keep calling her and once again, she answered the call.
MORE TEACHING STINTS
She went over to New Forest All-Age in Manchester, then across to Oberlin High School in St. Andrew, then back to Trelawny at Albert Town Primary (while also teaching part-time at Albert Town High School).
DANCER, MUSIC PRODUCER
In the entertainment world, as a dancer, she fondly remembers performing (dance) at Sunsplash 1985 with Jean Breeze. Paulette also performed with Oku Onuru.
However, she ventured into yet another area of the arts, expanding her contribution to Jamaica’s culture even more.
As a music producer, she was the lady behind the scenes as a former dub-plate producer for the Falmouth-based Sly, Slick and Wicked Sound System.
DUB PLATE PRODUCER
According to Paulette:
Even though I played an integral part in the Dancehall Culture, I honestly cannot say I’ve totally been at a dance from start to finish. I’m even shocked at the lyrics of some of these dubs I got done! You must surely know I just got them done and delivered in time for killing. Lolol. That was my high point. That one dub to put up the other system. After that it was push to head home to the hills in the early morning.
Which artistes did she work with?
It’s a great list. I love them all but it’s hard for me to recall them. I loved working with Barrington Levy, Tenor Saw, John Holt and Freddy McGregor. Also the Meek Brothers (Daddy Meekie and Little Meekie), Junior Reid, Capleton, John Holt, Freddie McGregor, Dennis Brown, Garnett Silk, Cobra, Justin Hines, Major Mackerel, Daddy Lizard, Anthony Red Rose, Lieutenant Stitchie, Pinchers and Anthony Malvo. I’m pretty sure I did Tiger as well in combination with Junior Reid. I also did Jigsy King too.
She fondly recalls arriving late in the dance with the decisive dubplates which include the trump card, the surprise assassin, that one dubplate that will cause such an impact, that the other sound system will have no choice but to concede victory to Sly Slick.
Then she was taken back home in the hills. Her job was done. Many persons did not know that she was Stevie Gregg’s secret weapon.
ALBERT TOWN CULTURAL GROUP
Through all of this busy schedule, Paulette Reid-Denson still had time to help form the Albert Town Cultural group (along with Augustus Bowers and Nadine Parkinson). The group, like the Trelawny Dance Ensemble, has stood the test of time and is still around, impacting lives today.
Back then, the group put on beauty pageants, had a dance group and undertook community projects. The highlight was a 1993 Jamaica government award for the best community group.
FOOD & BEVERAGE
Always searching for new avenues of artistic expression, when the United States beckoned, Paulette answered the call.
And so, in 1998, she completed a degree in yet another area of art, which is food and beverage management. That led her to work with Marriott International as well as several other companies along with private catering deals.
However, in 1999, she continued her love for the pageants when she founded the Florida Caribbean Queen Pageant. This only ran for 2 years as a fellow Trelawny Jamaica native had started a pageant with the same name. To avoid any conflict, Paulette said she canceled her promotion.
UNEARTH CHILD ART COMPETITION
Her creativity and innovation in the art world continued when she took to the internet and created the Unearth Child Art Competition. This was very successful and entries came from children all over the world.
The aim of the competition was to bring children from different nations together as well to highlight art forms from throughout the world.
Winners came from Barnstaple and Albert Town Basic School in Trelawny, Lawrence Tavern in St. Andrew, as well as Sierra Leone, Ghana, Puerto Rico, and Nigeria.
PASSIONATE DEFENDER OF THE COCKPIT COUNTRY
Though living in the United States, she has never lost touch with her local area, which is nestled in the Cockpit Country region of Trelawny.
In 2019, there was a furore over the impending mining of bauxite in the Cockpit Country which spans what Paulette calls her ancestral home in Albert Town, Trelawny. She became one of the most strident advocates for the preservation of the Cockpit Country.
The Cockpit Country in Southern Trelawny is a mountain range that spans the neighbouring parishes of St. Ann, St. Elizabeth, and St.James. It is called the Cockpit Country because of the conical hills that have the appearance of the old fighter planes’ cockpit. It is the largest contiguous rainforest in Jamaica and contains several plants, insects and animals not found anywhere else in the entire world.
Paulette Reid-Denson is passionate about protecting this natural eco-system that is the source of 40% of the island’s water supply.
I am a maroon from the Cockpit Country and my grandfather had a water well on his property, so I know the importance of water in the Cockpit Country. We only need to plant more (not to be looking to mine bauxite).
The determined Reid-Denson says she is ready for any physical fights for the Cockpit Country.
“My family fought, and I am prepared to fight for the Cockpit Country. I respect my ancestors and will defend their fights. I love and respect the land, the culture, the air that we breathe, so I will continue the fight to the end.”
PAINTING: HER CHOSEN ART FORM
But after her foray into so many areas of art, Paulette has mellowed down and chosen one expression of art into which to put her efforts. She now spends her time as an abstract-impressionist painter.
“I embrace art. It is my past, my present, my food, my life. It is a continuation of life. Art is ancestral, it is music, dance, drama. It is everything that is wholistic. Art is therapeutic; it gives you knowledge.”
At the time of writing, Paulette was putting stuff together for her annual private exhibition of art. Describing herself as an intuitive artist with a flair for impressionism and abstract art, she is currently apprenticed to a popular artist (whose name she does not wish to disclose for the sake of the artist).
While at Edna Manley, she did not do painting, but rather, she pursued a Teacher Performer course. However, she is gaining experience from this artist. By so doing, she aims to better her work by receiving the formal training she did not get in this field.
Paulette sells her art only through private exhibitions and does not go public. This she believes allows her artwork to fetch a better price than if she had done public exhibitions.
ART AS A FUNDING TOOL FOR HER CHARITIES
But for Paulette, art is a tool for community development, not a means of enriching herself. As a result, she sells her art to fund her community projects.
To this end, she is part of a team that pursues community development projects in Portland, St. Mary, St. Ann, St. Elizabeth, and of course, home parish Trelawny.
Her philanthropic side is also manifested in the Change Makers Program, which undertakes varying treats all over Jamaica.
PAULETTE REID-DENSON TODAY
Today, Paulette lives a simple life. Her preoccupation is with taking care of her family and giving back to the communities back home. This she does through her Jamaican community projects.
These projects are made possible not only from her own resources but also through the help of community members in the USA as well as at home in Jamaica.
In Trelawny, these projects are executed through the Albert Town Cultural Group. She credits the following members of the group (among others): Hazel Facey, Carol Johnson, Covart Carty, Pearl Codner, and Sheila Ricketts.
TRELAWNY’S QUEEN OF THE ARTS
Miss Paulette Denson-Reid has had a tremendous impact on the cultural and artistic life of Trelawny parish and the rest of Jamaica. Her foray into so many areas of art means she was able to impact the lives of a wide cross-section of people.
Her legacy, the Albert Town Cultural group has stood the test of time.
Sadly, little is known about her contribution to Jamaica, which continues even today in her annual community development projects and treats. Paulette Reid-Denson is indeed, Trelawny’s unsung Queen of the Arts.