I want to shine some light on one of the many heroes of the Republic, Randolph Harrison Bennett BEM, MSM. In a few days the town of New Amsterdam will name a street in his honour, a tribute that some might say is long overdue, because Randolph Bennett was a very special person.
Born in 1911 in Ithaca village, West Bank Berbice, Mr. Bennett chose a life of service when at a very early age he joined the British Guiana Militia.
A self taught musician, he formed the Pan American orchestra in the mid 1940’s and won a Caribbean band competition. Other members of that orchestra were Eric Kendall, Bolton Cossiah, Henry La Rose, Messrs Stewart, Dookram and Hewitt.
During the 1950’s the band made weekly Saturday night appearances on the radio programme hosted by Mrs. Olga Lopes Seales.
During his 40 years as a musician, Randolph Bennett played almost every instrument, in which ever band he was involved; he was a gifted, talented and natural showman.
In 1951 Mr. Bennett was appointed Band Master of the British Guiana Volunteer Force Band. While serving in this position his determination and dedication were recognized by South African recording star, Miriam Makeba, who after visiting British Guiana assumed the role of benefactor and donated a wide range of instruments to the band. This aided in the development of the BGVF band.
In 1953 Randolph Bennett was selected along with three others to represent the BGVF at the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in London, England. In recognition of his outstanding and meritorious service to British Guiana and its people, he was awarded the British Empire Medal (BEM).
The Volunteer Force Band became an integral part of the entertainment and culture of New Amsterdam and Guiana as a whole. The band concerts in the Gardens, the Public Hospital compound, the Esplanade bandstand and the sea walls, particularly on Sunday afternoons, were must see events.
Its presence at events held at Government House and parades around the town on ceremonial occasions were always a big hit with the public. The Band Master’s charismatic style of conducting was refreshingly zestful, pleasant to watch and always brought huge cheers from guest and onlookers.
After Independence the BGVF became defunct, and Randolph Bennett enlisted in the reserve of the Guyana Defence Force with the rank of Warrant Officer 1(first class). Concerned about the future of the many adolescents in New Amsterdam, and recognizing that there was much potential to be harnessed, he formed the Berbice Junior Band. This was the beginning of a new generation of musicians that would learn at the foot of the great master.
I was one of the many young men that benefited from this opportunity of a lifetime.
In 1974, on the fourth anniversary of the Republic of Guyana, Warrant Officer Bennett was honoured by being appointed a member of the Order of Service of Guyana and was awarded the Military Service Medal (MSM) for service of an exceptionally high quality beyond the normal call of duty in the cause of the advancement of the welfare of Guyana and its people.
That same year he was also appointed Assistant Director of Music of the Guyana Defence Force band, and many of his protégés, members of the Berbice Junior Band became the core members of the GDF band. That move opened new horizons for those young people. Most of whom today are successful and productive citizens both in Guyana and abroad.
Randolph Bennett was a true patriot and proud
Berbician, his love of music, family and the town of New Amsterdam was evident in everything he did.
His mentoring and nurturing of the young men and women of that town including yours truly, remains one of the outstanding contributions made by any citizen to the community and is worthy of the recognition he will receive.
In a world where many clamour for ill-deserved recognition, Randolph Bennett lived a life of service and quietly went about his business, as a dedicated husband and father, soldier, musician and friend.
I join proudly with the people of New Amsterdam in saluting and honouring this great son of the soil.
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