The Story Of Jamaica’s National Anthem

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Three of the people behind the national anthem: the late Rev and Hon Hugh Sherlock; the late Hon Robert Lightbourne, and the late Mapletoft Poulle.

Jamaica’s national anthem is a prayer, calling on God to bless and guard our country, and bless our leaders with divine wisdom. The playing or singing of the anthem always fills us with pride, whether it is at a school devotion, a national event or on a global stage, such as the Olympics, when we celebrate the excellence of our athletes. Every Jamaican knows the anthem, but do you know the story of how it came about?

 The anthem is the creative work of four persons, the late Rev and Hon Hugh Sherlock, OJ, OBE; the late Hon Robert Lightbourne, OJ; the late Mapletoft Poulle and Mrs Poulle (now Mrs Raymond Lindo). Below is part of a recollection on how the anthem was selected, by former Prime Minister Hon Edward Seaga, who was a member of the committee established by the House of Representatives for the design of the Jamaican flag and the national anthem:

The committee was not inspired by any of the 12 entries sent to it by members of the public who composed songs for the competition to select a national anthem. But two entries stood out, one more so than the other.

Because of the short period of time remaining, it was decided to use a tape recording of the entry selected for playing to members of the House in the lobby of Parliament to get opinions on suitability. The recording was without any accompaniment, which made the rendition very uninspiring. In the chamber of the House, members were vocally upset at the selection. Some wanted an entirely new composition.

Robert Lightbourne, whose beautiful composition had been rearranged and submitted, explained that a new composition was impossible in a few weeks. Other members said the songs presented sounded like hymns. One other, Keble Munn, suggested that it was not essential for an anthem to be composed at this time. Canada, up to that time, had no anthem. It took Wycliffe Martin, another member, to remind the House that if there was a flag, there would have to be an anthem, and we had already selected a flag.

In my contribution to the debate, I bemoaned the rearrangement of the Lightbourne composition, which I had heard him play on the piano at this home several times. I expressed pleasure in “hearing a song which would have made a beautiful national anthem”, and expressed concern that “what we have heard tonight is, to my mind, a watered-down version of that very song. Some of the most inspiring passages were omitted, including the climax that would have stirred the mind and heart. The omission of that part has made it something less than the best.”