There is a Belizean Creole proverb that says that we must not wait to honor, respect and give gratitude to someone when they are dead, but that we should do it when they are alive. And that is just the way we had felt here at Belizean Legends before the passing of Belize’s most respected and honored female artist and legend Lee Laa Vernon.
Just last week while Leela was hospitalized and was ailing, it became very urgent that we do something on this outstanding Belizean citizen who has given Belizean Creoles great pride in who they are as a people of African descent. But before that, as a matter of fact, it became apparent a long time ago that in another visit of yours truly to Belize, that Lee Laa Vernon was going to be found in Punta Gorda where she lived, and that I could do an exclusive interview with her.
However, it was not meant to be, and there are no excuses at Belizean Legends why this awesome and legendary Belizean artist was not already documented by this documentary series. We missed a golden opportunity and we are making it up to her now through this exposé as a reflection on her work as a Belizean artist.
Some years ago in 1991 or later, Lee Laa Vernon visited Los Angeles, California at the invitation of Belizean musical artist and music promoter, Pupa Curly, and had performed at several shows for the Los Angeles Belizean community. It was there that I met her for the first time, and it was a thrill of a lifetime. We spoke briefly about Belizean music and culture, and I observed a deep passion in this incredible Belizean woman for her Creole culture and people. Lee Laa not only urged the cultivation of pride in her own culture, but she also embraced all Belizean culture and people and was able to prove her scholarship through documented information that is there in the history books on Belize for all to see. She was an artist who was well-informed in terms of what she was about, and verbally presented it with clear facts and knowledge. She was a real Belizean griot (storyteller) in the true sense of the word.
And so in this small reflection on the Belizean artist, Lee Laa Vernon, who brought Belizeans the songs, “Who Sey Creole Noh Gat No Culture”, “Two Coolie Woman”, and many more, we at Belizean Legends want to pay special tribute to this amazing Belizean musical artist and activist for a Belizean cause, and honor the work and legacy she has left behind.
In popular Islamic culture worldwide, there is a saying that there are two things that will benefit the person who has passed away. The first is the person’s deeds and how well he or she lived their life, and the second is the legacy that the person left behind. We Belizeans who had a chance to know her and to get a glimpse of that splendid personality name Leela Vernon, can very much say that she has benefited from both.
And it is in that spirit that we would like to bid farewell to the legendary Lee Laa Vernon in the name of peace and goodwill.
(Photo provided through the courtesy of Karen Vernon of the National Institute of Culture & History (NICH)