Photo: l-r: Ambassador Stephen Vasciannie, Alison Lyle, Paulette Willoughby, (JICFI Chair); pose with honorees: Bobby Clarke, (Irie Jam Media); Heather Foster (Office of Public Engagement, White House); Ray Goulbourne, (BET); Hermant G. LaMont, Consul General
Hundreds of Jamaicans, friends of Jamaica and celebrants, poured into the ballroom of the New York Hilton last Saturday, August 17, in anticipation of a Grand 51st Anniversary Ball, marking that moment fifty-one years ago when the proud nation of Jamaica, received its independence from great Britain. The event was held under the patronage of Jamaica's Consul General to New York, Herman G. Lamont and against a backdrop of a kaleidoscope of Jamaica colors. It was a fabulous evening which began with a cocktail hour at 6:30pm. As guests arrived they were treated to the sweet acoustic sounds of the Teddy Crawford experience, a one-man ensemble, on guitar.
A seemingly endless spread of delicacies awaited. For starters: Smoked Salmon on Pumpernickel, Solomon Gundy & Excelsior Water Crackers, Jamaica’s national dish—Ackee and Saltfish, Jamaican Cocktail Patties and more; and of course, what is probably the national drink (at least for the drinkers), Rum Punch. A silent action which featured some fantastic items was part of the cocktail hour.
An hour of mixing, mingling and photo-ops, gave way to the formalities, when guests moved to the Grand Ballroom for what was a delightful mix of formalities and festivities. The formation of the guard and presentation of both the United Sates and Jamaican Flags, preceded. The Grand Marshall of the evening was Mr. Sam Wright of Quality Ford.
Mistress of ceremonies for the evening, Sheryl Lee Ralph, added much gaiety to the evening with Jamaican anecdotes, humor, cultural tit-bits and examples of national accolades, prompting proud cheers and acknowledgements and sprinklings of laughter throughout the room all evening. She even got the audience to join her in singing some folk songs: Ms. Lou’s “long time gal,” “Evening Time” and the Harry Belafonte classic, “Day-O.” A delight was the three outfit changes courtesy of her mom, noted Jamaican designer, Ivy Ralph. The national dress (costume) of white peasant blouse, skirt and headdress of Madras bandana, (red plaid cotton) was the finale of the evening. It was a favorite and added to the cultural flair.
Dinner was impressive, appropriately Jamaican but with some international fare: jerk chicken, gungo rice and peas, fried ripe plantains, diversified by grilled shrimp, basmatic rice, and kale and topped off by mango sorbet and sour sop cheese cake.
Jamaica’s ambassador to the United States, Stephen Vasciannie, who was the special guest brought greetings as did Consul General of Jamaica to New York Herman G. Lamont. The three Jamaican nationals honored all thanked the Jamaica Independence Celebration Foundation for the recognition bestowed on them and all spoke of the pride they feel in their heritage. Recipients all of the Jamaica Independence Awards, they were: Ms. Heather Foster, Office of Public Engagement, The White House; Ray Goulbourne, Executive Vice President, Black Entertainment Television, (BET); and Robert Clarke of Irie Jam Media.
The marquee diaspora event brought out the movers and shakers of the Jamaican and Caribbean communities in the tri-state . Heading the list were US Congresswoman, Yvette Clarke; former New York Councilwoman, Una Clarke and husband Leslie Clarke; US Senator and husband of Sheryl Lee Ralph, Vincent Hughes; New York Politicos: Assemblyman N. Nick Perry, Councilmember Leroy Comrie and William ‘Bill’ Thompson, mayoral hopeful; Jamaica's former Consul General to New York, Dr Basil Bryan and Mrs Bryan; and Judge Sam Walker.
With the formalities and sumptuous dinner out of the way, the always entertaining live band, Fabulous Five took the stage. A few minutes into their set they welcomed, two-time festival song winner Tinga Stewart who thrilled the crowd with renditions of his 1994 Festival winning song, Play the Music; the 1981 winner, "Nuh Wey Nuh Better Dan Yard," and the popular dance hall hit, Cover Me.
Patrons danced into the wee hours of Sunday morning culminating what was a fantastic independence Ball. Oh, what a grand night it was!