Seventeen-year-old Nerys Thorpe, a first-year student in the Associate Degree programme in Music at the Barbados Community College, is the winner of the Copyright Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers Inc.’s (COSCAP) inaugural Jackie Opel scholarship.
The award is the fulfilment of a promise made by the organization to honour the name of one of Barbados’ most illustrious entertainers. The promise was made in March this year at a rededication ceremony following the restoration of Opel’s gravesite at Westbury Cemetery.
Jackie Opel, real name Dalton Bishop, was a prolific singer and songwriter renowned throughout the Caribbean. He was one of the founders of the Skatellites, a leading Jamaican band in the early 1960s. In Barbados, he is primarily credited with creating spouge, which is considered the island‘s “national genre.” He lost his life in a car accident on March 8, 1970.
When asked how she felt on receiving the scholarship, Nerys said she was “proud,” but she had an idea it was coming because “two weeks ago, the Head of the Music Department, Roger Gittens, called my class teacher and asked for my marks in the entrance examination. I scored 93, and with that he said I could qualify for an award.”
Nerys said she was musically inclined for as long as she can remember.
“When I was small, I remember singing using my grandmother’s cane as a microphone, and then I would sing the songs I learned at school in an operatic style just for fun. I started piano lessons when I was in Class 2 at the Rock Christian Primary School, and I took up the flute when I joined the Cadet Band at Harrison College.”
The scholarship covers Nerys’ tuition fees for the two-year duration of the programme, and she also receives a laptop and her preferred instrument, a flute, as part of the package.
Director of COSCAP Erica Smith stated that “while neither Jackie Opel nor his estate were members of COSCAP, we are giving this scholarship in recognition of his influence and his contribution to Barbados’ cultural landscape.”
She added, “as we seek to develop the creative industries, we can take advice from someone who intrinsically understood the connection between our culture and our identity on the world stage, and strategically sought to take advantage of the opportunities that could be generated. He was seeking to achieve self-identity and self-recognition through a unique Barbadian sound.”
Head of the Music Department at the Barbados Community College Roger Gittens called the scholarship a “significant moment for music education in Barbados. Usually agencies like COSCAP deal with performers when they have become professionals and are getting paid for their work, but it is good to see them investing in education. COSCAP is reaching back through inspiration of Jackie Opel by investing in someone as talented as Nerys, who we are hoping won’t just play, but compose, arrange and produce music too.”
Meanwhile, Aja, one of the driving forces behind the efforts being made to honour Jackie Opel, lamented that not enough had been done to preserve the legacy of our past musicians.
“Musicians in developed countries always pay homage to who went before. For example, Wynton Marsalis said he studied Louis Armstrong, and when you study Jackie Opel’s legacy, it’s not only about spouge, but ska, and Bob Marley and Peter Tosh attributed their skills to what they learned from him. Barbados also produced another legend in Ernie Small, who at one time was considered one of the top ten trumpeters in the world, but we have not done enough to recognize these people. I think the Barbados Community College should take a closer look at the history of music in Barbados.”