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9716: This Week in Haiti 19:36 11/21/2001 (fwd)
"This Week in Haiti" is the English section of HAITI PROGRES
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"Le journal qui offre une alternative"
* THIS WEEK IN HAITI *
November 21 - 27, 2001
Vol. 19, No. 36
SINGER MARTHA JEAN-CLAUDE DEAD AT 82
Haitian singer and actress Martha Jean-Claude, whose engaged
music inspired Haitians struggling against dictatorship for
decades, died at age 82 on Nov. 14 in Havana.
Known as "the daughter of two islands," she was a symbol of the
fraternity between Haiti and Cuba, where she lived most of her
life and raised four children.
Martha Jean-Claude, known affectionately as Mamita, came to fame
in Haiti during the 1940s, most notably during Port-au-Prince's
bicentennial festivities in 1949. As a child, she sang at the
Port-au-Prince Cathedral and, in 1942, began her professional
career with folkloric concerts at the Rex Theatre, where she was
often accompanied by fellow singer-dancer Emérantes Despradines.
In 1952, she was imprisoned for publishing a play, "Avrinette,"
which the regime of President Paul Magloire found subversive.
She fled to Cuba on Dec. 20, 1952.
"I left Haiti after spending several months in prison while
pregnant," she recalled in an interview. "I gave birth two days
after getting out. One month after leaving prison -- my husband
was in Cuba -- I left to join him." She had married Cuban
journalist Victor Mirabal, whom she met after one of her shows. A
few months later, they married in Venezuela.
Together they had four children: Linda, an opera singer in
Madrid; Sandra, a musician living in Amsterdam; Magdalena, a
doctor living in Cuba; and Richard Mirabal, a musician and
director of the Martha Jean-Claude Foundation, based in
In Cuba, she quickly became a star on the stage, radio, and
television, playing with different orchestras and in many clubs,
including the famous "Tropicana." In 1957, she spent a year
working in Mexico, where her "Afro Cabaret" was very popular on
When she returned to Cuba in 1958, the country was in upheaval
and she sided with the revolutionaries. After the Batista
dictatorship fell in 1959, she became something of an ambassador
for the Cuban Revolution, Haitian culture, and the the anti-
Duvalierist struggle, bringing her concerts to many socialist
countries as well as playing at schools, Army bases, and official
receptions in Cuba. She even travelled with the Cuban Army to
Angola in the 1970s. She also toured Paris, Montreal, New York,
Panama, Mexico, and Spain.
In 1971, she starred in the anti-Duvalierist film Si m pa rele,
produced in Cuba.
"It's natural that I struggle for social justice," Martha said in
an interview explaining the political character of many of her 50
songs and 8 albums. "To sing the song of the peasants, that's
what is in my heart. I lean toward these people. My songs are
what one calls protest ballads."
After 34 years in exile, she returned to Haiti in 1986, after the
fall of Jean-Claude Duvalier, and held a triumphant concert. She
performed again in Port-au-Prince in 1991 with Mackandal, a
musical group she formed in 1978 with her children Richard and
Several of Martha's grandchildren accompanied her to a concert in
her honor with Despradines and Cuban singer Celia Cruz at the
Sylvio Cator stadium in Port-au-Prince in July 1996.
The same year, President René Préval honored her with Haiti's
highest medal of honor.«With her children born in Cuba, she
created the Martha Jean-Claude Foundation with the goal of
perfecting the artistic formation of youth and to allow better
cultural relations between Haiti and Cuba,» a Haitian government
press release explained after her death.
Last year, Richard Mirabal, working with Cuban television,
produced a one-hour documentary on her life and music entitled
"Fanm 2 zile" (Woman of Two Islands).
Her last public appearance was at a reception in the Palace of
the Revolution in Havana on Jul. 17 on the occasion of President
Jean-Bertrand Aristide's state visit to Cuba. Although in a
wheel-chair, Martha bantered cheerfully with Fidel Castro and
Born in Port-au-Prince on Mar. 21, 1919, Martha suffered in
recent years from diabetes and other ailments and spent her final
month in a Cuban hospital. Her family was all on hand for her
death. Her funeral, attended by former Haitian president René
Préval, was held in Havana on Nov. 15.
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