Brooklyn group serenades Vincy-style

Erlene Williams-King caroling.
Photo by Nelson A. King

The United Vincie Cultural Group of Brooklyn (UVCGB) recently brought the “Spirit of Christmas” Vincy-style to supporters and friends in Brooklyn.

The group, one of the larger Vincentian cultural groups in the United States, staged “Serenade 2014”, on Nov. 29, at Miracle Temple Ministries’ Fellowship Hall in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn.

With Christmas carols, speeches, a short skit and local delicacies, UVCGB brought much nostalgia to an appreciative crowd, which included St. Vincent and the Grenadines’ New York Counsel General Selmon Walters.

Members and the audience reminisced about the season at home – whether it was in Kingstown, the capital, or in the rural areas.

Manyf nationals from other Caribbean islands, including Jamaica and Grenada, also reflected on Christmas in their respective countries.

“Good night to the master and mistress of this humble dwelling. We are here to bring Christmas cheer,” said Dr. Roxie Irish, the group’s president, in a speech that is/was popular during house-to-house serenading at home.

“The fact that you’re here means that you know about Christmas caroling at home,” added Irish, asking the UVCGB band to strike up “Silent Night” in “Caribbean flavor.”

“Tonight, there’s no dog to bark at you; so this is your night,” continued Irish (to laughter), also a former national netball star, who chaired the proceedings, urging patrons to participate in the event.

UVCGB member Judith “Baffy” Cuffy-Murray, who opened the event, noted house-house serenading and sharing of local delicacies, such as the mouth-watering black cake, at home during the season.

“We are here to bring back the ‘Spirit of Christmas,’” she told the audience.

Olson Thomas, a retired public school teacher in Brooklyn and former president of the Brooklyn-based St. Vincent and the Grenadines Humanitarian Organization, mixed his speech with popular carols, such as “We Three Kings” and “While Shepherds Watch their Flocks”, as the audience chimed in.

Annice Bess reflected on Christmas while growing up, stating that it started in her “Neck of the Woods” with “Nine Mornings.”

“Then we go home and clean we home,” she said colloquially. “The fiber (used for making bed mattresses and cushions), we pulled it out.

“When I clean, my sister dem can’t go in the house,” she added. “We have to have Ju-C and ginger beer (local beverages).

“Christmas in St. Vincent and the Grenadines (is) not the same,” Bess continued. “In our days, Christmas used to be like Christmas.”

Bess’ younger sister, Ingrid Bess, and Barbara Roberts performed a duet with “Love and Joy Come to You” and “Joy to the World.”

“When I was small, we used to ‘Sing Out,’” Ingrid Bess recalled, as Erlene Williams-King sang “Away in a Manger” and “O, Holy Night.”

Lovena Bynoe and Rosemarie Bobb-Irish, Dr. Irish’s mother, also reminisced about their childhood days at Christmas before rendering “O, Holy Night.”

Before giving his “Christmas Speech,” UVCGB member Ralphie Cunningham looked back on his boyhood days, during the Christmas season.

“Christmas is coming, the geest are getting fat, please put a penny in the old man hat. If not a penny, a half penny will do; if not a half penny, God bless you,” said Cunningham in a speech he often delivered during serenading with his boyhood friend and then neighbor, Nelson King.

Donna Ash said Christmas has always been “very special to me, because it’s my birthday,” adding that it was also “great” in her household.

She recalled participating in a talent show, as a child, at the Peace Memorial Hall in Kingstown and singing “Noel.”

“I sang it, and I never heard it again,” said Ash, giving patrons a version of that song that she first rendered over five decades ago. The audience applauded lustily.

The event was infused with jokes from Jamal Walker; poem and speeches from Karen Charles-DeFrietas; poem on “The Birth” by Kimberly Thompson, of Jamaica; Jim Reeves’ “Old Christmas Card” from Zita Adams; and carols from the Miracle Temple Senior Choir and Brooklyn’s Grace Battalion Choir, including the “Little Drummer Boy.”

Cuffy-Murray also joined executive members of the Brooklyn-based Council of St. Vincent and the Grenadines’ Organizations, U.S.A. Inc. (COSAGO) in performing “Jingle Bells” and “Silent Night.”

With callalou soup, bakes and saltfish, roti, potato pudding, slice and tart, and ginger beer and sorrel awaiting attendees, Cuffy-Murray and Claudette Thomas-Butler performed a skit in which Cuff-Murray, acting as “Mable” stole a “Christmas Ham” from a boiling pot that Thomas-Butler prepared on a coal pot.

UVCGB then brought the house down with a medley of carols: “Away in a Manger;” “The First Noel;” “Virgin Mary had a Baby Boy;” “Felice Navidad;” “Christmas, Christmas” and “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.”

Some members of the UVCGB perform a Christmas song medley.
Photo by Nelson A. King

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