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9615: Legendary Haitian singer Martha Jean-Claude dies (fwd)
From: Greg Chamberlain <GregChamberlain@compuserve.com>
By Trenton Daniel
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, Nov 16 (Reuters) - Martha Jean-Claude, one of
Haiti's most famous singers and a longtime resident of Cuba, has died at
age 82 in a Cuban hospital, officials said on Friday.
Jean-Claude, whose legendary voice made her the "Grande Dame of
Haitian song," died on Wednesday. She had been suffering from diabetes.
"The death of Martha Jean-Claude leaves people from Haiti and Cuba in
dismay and mourning," the Haitian government said in a statement. "This is
a giant cultural loss for Haiti and Cuba."
The singer was born in the capital, Port-au-Prince, and rose to fame
in the 1940s and 1950s.
She spent her childhood singing as a soloist at the Port-au-Prince
Cathedral and in 1942 made her professional debut in a series of folkloric
concerts at the downtown Rex Theater, where she was accompanied by singer
and dancer Emerante de Pradines.
Along with de Pradines, Jean-Claude belonged to a musical tradition
that embraced romantic, folkloric and patriotic songs.
Although she remained a popular singer in her native country,
Jean-Claude spent most of her adulthood in exile. In 1952, President Paul
Magloire jailed her briefly. Released because she was pregnant, she was
allowed to leave the country to join her Cuban husband and started a life
of exile, first in Venezuela and then in Cuba.
While performing in cabarets on the communist-ruled island,
Jean-Claude sang songs honoring Haiti's poor and those who suffered under
the 29-year dictatorship of Francois Duvalier and his son, Jean-Claude,
that lasted until 1986.
Scholars of Haitian music said her exile contributed to her stardom.
"She made a legend out of herself in that she never got tainted by
playing for Duvalier or the apparatus at the time," Gage Averill, the chair
of New York University's music department and a follower of Haitian music
for 15 years, told Reuters in a telephone interview.
"She remained this pristine symbol."
Jean-Claude did not return to visit her native country until 1986,
when a national grass-roots movement ousted the Duvalier dynasty. It is
believed she last performed in Haiti in 1995.
Former President Rene Preval awarded Jean-Claude the government's
highest honor, the "Order of National Honor and Merit," for her promotion
of Haitian culture.