Louise Simone Bennett-Coverley more commonly known as Miss Lou, (7 September 1919 – 26 July 2006), was a Jamaican poet, folklorist, writer, and educator.
Writing and performing her poems in what was known as Jamaican Patois or Creole, she was instrumental in having this "dialect" of the people given literary recognition in its own right as a nation language, located at the heart of the Jamaican poetic tradition, and influencing many other poets, including Mutabaruka and Linton Kwesi Johnson to do similar things.
Louise Bennett was born in Kingston, Jamaica, and attended Ebenezer and Calabar Elementary Schools, St. Simon’s College, Excelsior College, and Friends College (Highgate, St Mary). On a British Council scholarship she attended the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, where she studied in the late 1940s. After graduating, she worked with repertory companies in Coventry, Huddersfield and Amersham, as well as in intimate revues all over England.
On her return to Jamaica she taught drama to youth and adult groups both in social welfare agencies and for the University of the West Indies Extra Mural Department.
Miss Lou was a good resident artiste and a teacher from 1945 to 1946 with the 'Caribbean Carnival'. She appeared in leading humorous roles in several Jamaican pantomimes and television shows. She travelled throughout the world promoting the culture of Jamaica through lectures and performances. Although her popularity was international, she enjoyed celebrity status in her native country-Jamaica, as well as Canada and the United Kingdom. Her poetry has been published several times, most notably the volumes Jamaica Labrish (1966), Anancy and Miss Lou (1979).
Her most influential recording is probably her 1954 rendition of the Jamaican traditional song "Day Dah Light", which was recorded by Harry Belafonte as "Day O", also known as the "Banana Boat Song", in 1955 on a Tony Scott arrangement with additional lyrics. Belafonte based his version on Bennett's recording. Belafonte's famous version was one of the 1950s' biggest hit records, leading to the very first gold record ever awarded.
Louise Bennett married Eric Winston Coverley on 30 May 1954 and has one adopted son, Fabian Coverley. She died in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, where she had resided for the last decade of her life, on 26 July 2006.
In 1960, Louise Bennett was made a Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire for her work in Jamaican literature and theater.
In 1974, she was appointed to the Order of Jamaica. The Jamaican government also appointed her Cultural Ambassador at Large for Jamaica. Among numerous other awards, she received the Institute of Jamaica's Musgrave Silver and Gold Medals for eminence in the field of Arts and Culture, the Norman Manley Award for Excellence (in the field of Arts), an Honorary Doctorate of Letters from the University of the West Indies (1983), an Honorary Doctorate of Letters from York University, Toronto.
On Jamaica’s Independence Day in 2001, the Honourable Mrs. Louise Bennett-Coverley was appointed as a Member of the Jamaican Order of Merit for her invaluable and distinguished contribution to the development of the Arts and Culture.
In honour of Miss Lou and her achievements, Harbourfront Centre, a non-profit cultural organisation in Toronto, Canada, named a venue after her as Miss Lou's Room.