Tributes have been pouring in from the entertainment fraternity, for the late veteran costume band leader Renee Ratcliffe, who passed away suddenly this morning.
Ratcliffe collapsed minutes after she and her band Jump Promotions ended their parade before the judges at the National Stadium and mere feet away from the Scotia Bank gate. She was taken by ambulance to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QEH) where she was pronounced dead.
“I am still in shock. I just heard and I can’t believe it…I aint get over it yet,” said President of the Barbados Association of Masdqueraders (BAM), Chetwyn Stewart.
Telling Barbados TODAY he was lost for words, Stewart said Ratcliffe, who led her band for the most of its 10 year existence, would be greatly missed from Crop Over and Grand Kadooment in particular.
The BAM President conveyed condolences to her family on behalf of the association, adding that the body will soon meet and plan a special tribute to the beloved band designer.
Laura Galt, co-leader of Ratcliffe’s band, told Barbados TODAY that members were saddened upon receiving the news.
“We just had a minute’s silence a while ago and Carol Roberts and Lil Rick came on [the public address system] and did a few testimonials and asked everybody to go ahead and just continue to jump for Renee … in honour of Renee.
Ratcliffe’s close friend and fellow band leader Gweneth Squires broke down in tears when she first received the news.
“We eat breakfast together. She would bring breakfast for me. She was my friend and I will miss her. We would have to meet and do something for her [memory],” a visibly distraught Squires said.
Renee Ratcliffe moments before her death.
Another fellow costume designer and band leader, Betty West was also shaken by Ratcliffe’s passing.
“She was an excellent designer and I really, really feel sad about it and I give my condolences to all her family,” West said.
Asked if the death would affect the street revelry, she replied: “Well, today I’m involved with my band, so I have to concentrate on bringing forth this band [before the judges]. But I know that when I am on my own, it’s going to be sad for me because she was part of us. She helped make Barbados successful as far as Crop Over is concerned.”
The multiple award winning costume band designer noted that Ratcliffe “was very active in the cultural world here in Barbados. And believe me, it’s very, very hurtful and sad…and I know she also has two beautiful sons.”
Producer of Grand Kadooment Aja recalled that only moments before her death, Ratcliffe blew kisses at him while she and her band were crossing the stage.
“One minute she was shouting me and sending kisses at me like she accustomed doing…she is fun-loving and bubbly, just loving everyone, yuh know. She was just letting me know, ‘I am here Aja’…because she was shouting me while she was on the track [at the stadium], and then a few minutes later I got the news. It was sad; I didn’t know what to do with myself,” he lamented.
Aja added the veteran designer’s death will put a whole new perspective on what Grand Kadooment 2016 is.
“We at the NCF want to extend condolences to all her children, her husband, her parents and her entire family … for what they are going through right now.
“She wanted to see the Barbadian mass move away from the feathers and the beads. And we spoke about that. As a producer, many times she would shoot me an email that would suggest this. So if there is one person that wanted to see Barbadian mass evolve, not just putting on costume for the sake of putting on costume, it was her,” he emphasized.
The NCF producer suggested that Ratcliffe’s wishes should be kept in mind for future Grand Kadooments.
Meanwhile, women’s activist Marilyn Rice-Bowen who jumped in Betty West’s band, said Ratcliffe’s death was a profound loss to the cultural arena.
The activist said she got goose bumps when she heard the news, recalling that she spoke with her as recently as last Thursday.
“She was talking about being 40 and getting old and that kind of thing. She was saying ‘you know when you get 40 everything starts to break down.’ We have really lost an outstanding woman who in her short life made a profound contribution to the cultural industry,” Rice-Bowen said.
Parliamentary Secretary in the Ministry of Tourism and International Transport, Senator Irene Sandiford-Garner, was also in a daze as she struggled to come to grips with the death. She said she was close to the stage when a marshall informed revelers of what had happened.
She said some people shed tears while others could not make the jump and decided to go home.
“This is an immense loss. This is the last thing you expect to happen on a day like this,” Sandiford-Garner said. (EJ)