Lover of the Arts

Like so much else in his life, Michael Manley’s relationship with the arts and culture was in his DNA; i.e., it was largely acquired from his parents. His mother, Edna Manley, was an outstanding sculptor and a facilitator and patron of the visual and performing arts. Remarkably, she edited a watershed anthology of literary works, titled Focus, in 1960. His father, the versatile Norman Washington Manley, found time to critique art for the media.

Michael was fascinated by the arts, and he had a boyhood ambition to be an architect. He had many friends among the fraternity of visual and performing artists. His personal library had its share of poetry and fiction. He collected the works of visual artists, he made suggestions to choreographers regarding scenarios for dance, he enjoyed good dramatic works even when they lampooned him, and he was a great lover of music, both classical and modern.

His choice of music was eclectic but he was very particular about the quality of appliances on which to play his recordings. In that regard, he astonished even music experts as he did with his great knowledge of the art. The following is a tribute on his passing by Geoffrey Shields, the famous horticulturist and musician.

I … had the joy of listening to music in many of [Michael’s] listening sessions. Many may not know, but Michael had what must be the largest collection of music CDs of all sorts, anywhere. He had an outstanding stereo system, perhaps second to none, which was designed for his listening area and which he assembled bit by bit as he could.

Listening was like sitting in the symphony hall, and perhaps better, since the acoustics and electronic equipment brought out every instrument and nuance to perfection. I must hasten to add that his collection ranged from the most profound classical recordings to reggae and pop. Often he would say, “This is for David,” his son, then “This is for Geoffrey,” so wide and versatile was his collection and interest.

But more important was his analysis and critique of the recordings. Often we listened to two or three recordings of the same symphony and Michael’s critique paralleled any music professor’s.

One Friday night at 11.30 p.m, when I was about to leave, he said, “One more for the road, Geoffrey,” then put on Rakhmaninov’s Symphony Number 3, a 40-minute work. Once, he visited a concert I gave with the Collegiate Choral Ensemble, and astounded me with his knowledge of the selections. He could write as music critic for any newspaper, anywhere.

To know and work with Michael Manley was an experience to be had perhaps once in a millennium. Michael Manley was the best teacher, friend and counsellor anyone could have.

There was nothing he wished more than to inspire and embrace the hearts of all Jamaicans, and he did. He had so much to offer and so much to do. I can hear him saying: “Where has the time all gone? I haven’t done half the things I want to.”

Cheers to you, Michael. We’ll catch up some other time.