Cultural practitioner George Jones who resides in Cayman Islands cannot make it back home to Barbados for the funeral service of his dear friend William Smokey Burke. He is grounded as Cayman Islands. Given his own medical challenges he was advised not to take the trip. George also had to cancel his annual check up in Florida which was due for next Tuesday.
The following is a tribute to Smokey from George entitled: Brothers Through Circumstance.
Growing up as a kid who followed local music, listed among the musical stalwarts of the 1970s spouge era was one of my favourites, William Smokey Burke, who, in addition to being an excellent vocalist, was also a competent drummer.
I would subsequently meet him in early 2000, through a mutual friend in Canada where we both resided at the time. Over the years, we maintained a mutual respect for each other. In 2010, we were both diagnosed with different types of cancer which sent a collective shock throughout the music fraternity of Barbados and by extension the world.
Given the tremendous financial resources needed for us to individually fight our respective challenges, John Roett spearheaded a massive initiative to organize a fundraising benefit concert for Smokey and I, which was held on Saturday, April 17, 2010.
This show saw an unprecedented outpouring of support from the local musical fraternity and we were able to raise enough funds to jumpstart our respective cancer treatment regimes. Through this experience, an indelible bond was formed between us which strengthened and grew from then right up to his death.
We became the faces of cancer, the voices of hope and brothers through circumstances. We shared treatment information, updated, supported, encouraged and motivated each other throughout our respective medical journeys.
I got through my cancer challenge only to be confronted by kidney failure, dialysis, and a subsequent successful kidney transplant.
Another fundraising event was held for me in New York in 2013 and Smokey who was vacationing there at the time came by to support the event. I shared a contribution of the proceedings with him, which totally caught him by surprise and made him emotional. I quickly reminded him that it’s ok because “we’re all in this together”.
Smokey remained in constant contact during my dialysis journey and offered whatever support he was able to, even if just a joke to cheer me up.
When he received a cornerstone award from the Barbados Music Awards in 2011, he inquired if I was fit enough to travel, suggesting that it would be a great idea if I could present him with the award. I got clearance to travel and systems were in place for me to be there for the presentation. It remains one of the most memorable and appreciative experiences throughout our respective medical journeys. On my visits back to Barbados we would always find time to hang out, and have lunch or a drink.
For Christmas 2015, Terry Arthur brought him, John Roett and Willie Kerr to entertain the dialysis patients of which I was one at SILS.
There comes a time when the spotlight is turned off and you retreat to your own lonely reality. It’s a reality I’ve personally experienced and able to confirm because unlike many others, I had a chance to recover. There were very few people who were there for the entire journey of the peaks and valleys, lows and highs. The vast majority of those who would publicly declare their support gradually faded away.
After his stroke, I made it a point to speak to Smokey every month, even if just once a month, to keep updated with how he’s doing. In instances where I was not able to personally hear him, I was kept abreast by persons like Merle Niles, Jakila Lewis and Mighty Gabby. I always called him on his birthday, June 2, at Christmas, New Year and definitely Crop Over. I also visited him the last two times I was in Barbados, and he was overjoyed.
On February 13, he sent me a message congratulating me on my Cayman Culture Award and when I inquired of his well-being, he said he was in hospital. I immediately picked up the phone and called him. From the sound of his voice I detected that tone of resignation. I sensed he was approaching the final destination, but somehow I still prayed for a positive outcome.
I’ll cherish the music, the memories and the laughter, and I’ll find solace in the fact that he’s out of his pain and misery.
Since his passing, I have received an overwhelming outpouring of condolences on his behalf. May he rest In peace.