Karen Smith hailed as ‘a warrior for justice’
"Jamaica's quintessential songbird now sings in the choirs of Jerusalem," were the comforting words offered to family and friends by Culture Minister Olivia Grange at Wednesday's Thanksgiving Service for Karen Smith at the St James Parish Church in Montego Bay, St James.
Smith, who passed away on September 11, following a year-long battle with cancer, was hailed as much for her legendary voice and engaging personality as her advocacy. A former president of the Jamaica Federation of Musicians and Affiliates Union, Smith was painted as a "warrior for justice".
A sombre Grange noted that "in her performance and in her leadership roles, Karen has left an indelible imprint on the cultural, arts and entertainment landscapes of Jamaica".
Former prime minister, PJ Patterson, at the outset, smoothly explained why he always referred to Smith as his niece. He had met her father while they were both students at Calabar, and they became brothers. In giving his wide-ranging tribute, one of the areas he focused on was the fact that "Karen was a champion for industrial equity; what she sought was equal rights and justice. And she didn't have to do it because she was in great demand. But she was thinking of others. She was insistent on trying to provide the leadership that would enable the entertainment sector to be full participants in the tourism industry."
He remembered the island's foremost cabaret singer as one of a kind.
"When she was doing a cabaret she made everyone on the audience feel special as if you were the only one there. She made each song her own, no matter how famous the person who sang the original version. In her singing she established the Karen Smith brand," he said. "In that finely sculpted body, Karen was a bundle of delight, the supreme artiste, vibrant, vivacious, thrilling, one who constantly radiates her own spark to shed light, no matter what the occasion."
Musical tributes were performed by Dean Fraser, Pam Hall and Bunny Rose. Smith is survived by her widower, Jackie Jackson, her daughter Courtni, her mother, Barbara Smith and three stepdaughters, who she loved as her own.