Maureen Duvalier - Bahamian Diva at 80
By NORMAN ROLLE, Weekender Editor
Maureen Duvalier, a multi-talented, multi-faceted entertainer who last month became an octogenarian, is very much in the business and does not plan to retire any time soon. She told The Weekender: "I'm going to perform any time they ask me. I still have my voice, I still can move. I am not thinking about retiring."
She got into entertainment professionally as a vocalist at 17, and like most of her contemporaries who made it in the entertainment business, she started with the world famous Freddie Munnings Orchestra at the Silver Slippers.
Inspired by a Betty Gables musical she saw at the Palace Theatre, later named the Cinema, she and Freeddie introduced 'floor show' to the Silver Slippers.
She recalls: "I sang everything at first but I fell in love with Ella Fitzgerald and her rendition of 'I Put the Peas In The Pot To Cook.' I never really knew who wrote the song but I copied it, we rehearsed it, and I sang it...and Freddie said songs like that were my stuff."
And that's what made Maureen the Bahamian diva, the native, authentic music in her signature screechy delivery. "I worked a stage," she says with a grin. "I danced, I performed. At age 80 I can't do 200 per cent like I used to, but I try very, very hard, because I feel if people come and pay their hard-earned money, they come to feel good, to go away feeling good."
In over 60 years on stage, she has made a lot of people feel good, but in 1992, she thought it was the end for her. "I had a bad cough and I think it was from the cigarettes. I use to smoke two packs a day. The doctor said I had a spot on my lungs. It was the worst thing that could happen to me. But one night while watching Benny Hinn on TV...He said 'God just told me there's someone out there with a spot on her lungs and God is healing it right now.' I said Jesus, it's me...If you heal me I'll serve you for the rest of my life...and I meant that...I went back to the doctor...and no spot could be found. I have never smoked a cigarette from that day."
Maureen is the first cousin of late Haitian president Francoise 'Papa Doc' Duvalier. She was born in Nassau at Burial Ground Corner on East Street. She discloses: "My father's mother was born at Inagua. Two boys and a girl were also born at Inagua...the other four children were born in Haiti. I have an aunt who's 93 and still living in Haiti. I am an only child."
A spinster all her life, Maureen does not have offspring but regards the chidden of her friends the late Rebecca Chipman and John 'Chippy' Chipman as her own.
One of few Bahamians to complete matriculation at Western Senior School at age 11, Maureen attended New York University where she majored in drama from 1952-54. "I did not finish. I had to come home because my mother was ill. I know I would have never lived to see 80 were it not for may mother and grandmother....they formed my life and gave me a beautiful upbringing," she recalls in a subdued voice.
One who loves our culture, Maureen was a pace-setter for women in Juankanoo. "I went on Bay Street as a little girl with my uncle Freddie Bowleg...eveyone thought I was a boy. When I finally unmasked was when women started rushing.
"I went to National Museum in Washington DC. and learned about the origin of Junkanoo...I love my culture and wanted to learn everything about it...to be equipped to explain Junkanoo to the world."
'Ask Me Why I Run' is the hit on the only album she recorded in 1955. And what does she think of today's younger entertainers?
"I think we have the talent. The money is important but you must have pride in whatever you're making your living by...that should be more important because if you're only working for the money, you're only working 25 per cent. If you're working because you love it, that gives you pride, the money comes after."
Good advice from one who's been in the business over three decades.
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