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First Lady of Junkanoo: Maureen Duvalier Honoured
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Posted by:Jan 12th 2004, 01:29:22 pm
Fig Tree News TeamThe Nassau Guardian Monday, January 12, 2004

Junkanoo Queen

By MONIQUE FORBES
Guardian Features Reporter

The pages of history bear testimony to the many people who have fought causes, overcome struggles, and helped to build nations.

The late Sir Milo Butler, Dame Doris Johnson, , Sir Cecil Wallace Whitfield and Sir Lynden Pindling are but a few Bahamians who have left their imprint on the pages of time. Ms Maureen Verlene Duvalier is of no exception.

In 1958 a group of 25 females, (woman and children), along with a group of men, stood on George Street, near Bay Street just in front of Christ Church Cathedral. It was well past the midnight hour, but everyone was wide awake; an aura of excitement buzzing all around them. Some paced the area trying to shake off the nervous feeling, anticipating the beginning of what was to take place. Others said a silent prayer in hopes that everything would go as planned. One by one, they dawned their costumes and fell into line, waiting for the final word to march forward... And then... it came.

The sounds of bugles, fog horns, and conch shells blared, echoing sweetly; along with the thundering boom of goat skin drums breaking the stillness of the night, signaling an historic moment when for the first time ever a group of women would participate in the Christmas-holiday Junkanoo parades. Forward onto Bay Street they marched, in a gyrating manner known as 'rushing'. Their identities shielded by masks. These were not just any dancers, these were church women, school children, teachers, housewives...women from throughout the local community who had band together under the leadership of Ms Duvalier. Yes, notable persons like former Senator Hon. Telator Strachan, and the late Becky Chipman were among those behind the kaleidoscope of masks.

"Everyone was standing up looking at these women in their costumes. They [the costumes] were Red and Black. It was Black outside lined with red, when they spun you saw Red, when they came back down it was Black!" said an excited Ms Duvalier, reliving the moment during an interview.

"A group of people were standing by Artie Knottage Dry Good Store, It was the second store going east, between George and Market Streets, and by the time we got there, the people were coming to meet us," she continued, her eyes lighting up, a big warm smile complimenting them.

The group lead by Ms Duvalier, would go on to win first place trophy.

"They took Bay Street by storm and there was no question who won first second and third!" chimed a close source.

" I was the first woman... There was no other; I don't mind who comes behind and say they are queen of junkanoo. I am the first female to take women to Bay Street," says Ms Duvalier exuding a sense of pride.


Born May 14, 1926 on Burial Ground Corner, Ms Duvalier grew up in poverty stricken circumstances. She lived with a distant cousin whom she called her grandmother, because of the differences in their ages . The woman had taken both she and her mother in after her mother became pregnant with her, and had nowhere to stay.

"My mother was poor and I swore at the age of 14 , I would take care of my mother," she said. And I'd always remember my grandmother would say 'What ever you do, you have to do it at 200 percent."


Interestingly, the name Duvalier itself has a history of it's own. Ms Duvalier shares the story:

"I got the name from my father. My fathers name was Eucstace Edward Duvalier. My father was the second child of seven children. My grandmother Elizabeth was from Inagua and she married a Duvalier from Haiti they had seven kids, four born in Haiti, 3 born in Inagua. My father was the second son the first son was one time the president of Haiti. Francois 'PaPa Doc' Duvalier."


With the love of those around her, and her love for music Ms Duvalier would continue to become a budding rose.

"It started on Bay Street, because when I was very young between six and seven years old my uncle Freddie Bowleg was a great junkanooer, so I went to Bay Street with him. Everybody thought it was a little boy but it was me," she said.

However, Ms Duvalier would not only lead the first group of women junkanooers onto Bay Street , she would also be an ambassador for The Bahamas, and a world class entertainer.

At a very young age, and the godchild of music professor Bert Cambridge and his wife, Ms Duvalier continued to be exposed to the world of music, back then Mr. Cambridge was a leader of the band called the Chocolate Dandies and on many nights she would perform with the band at The Jungle Club.

Later she made her first wage when she was discovered by Mr. Freddie Munnings Sr. He hired her to sing at a popular club known as the Silver Slipper, then located on East Street. It was also Mr. Munnings who gave her the nickname Bahama Mama.

"He said he liked my voice, and my personality and asked me to come along with him at the Silver Slipper, he was the band leader at the Silver Slipper," recalls Ms Duvalier.

Despite the stigma placed on women who performed in night clubs during that era she would go on to lead a fulfilling professional career. Her catchy voice, unique story telling style, and her dramatic energy, catapulted her on to the world stage, where she made the presence of The Bahamas known. She released one album in her career. Yes Yes Yes, Ask Me Why I Run, and Court House Scandal, were just a few of the songs from her album she was most recognised for.

"When she sing a song, nobody wanted to sing it afterwards cause she own the song when she finish. First of all she was a lady, and second of all she had personality. When she went on stage she didn't just sing a song, she sang that song, she entertained!" exclaimed a fan of Ms Duvalier.

To date at the age of 77, the woman also nicknamed 'Calypso Mama' is still going strong. Formally retired from the entertainment profession at 70, she has come out of retirement to perform two to three nights a week at The Atlantis Resort, Paradise Island.

"I felt like I had too much to offer, and other people felt the same way, so they ask me to come back," explains Ms. Duvalier

Most recently she made the list of persons to be awarded Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE), by Queen Elizabeth II ,for her outstanding contribution to her country, The Bahamas.

To those who have known her through the years, Maureen is not only a gifted performer, she and Eloise Lewis, her good friend and fellow entertainer, helped put The Bahamas on the map, they are the pioneers of Tourism. he traveled for years and years promoting tourism all over the world. She and Eloise helped create an industry for the Bahamas, that is why many Bahamians feel she is being honoured.

"We didn't export anything but our good behaviour and our love for people," as Ms Duvalier puts it.

Posted: Monday January 12, 2004

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