Songwriter pays tribute to Bermuda’s Mary Prince
With Mary Prince as his inspiration, Greg Morrison wrote a song and took it to the “incredible” John Woolridge to put it all together.
He has released it in time for Bermuda’s annual celebration of the famed abolitionist who, in 1831, shared the horrors of her life in The History of Mary Prince: A West Indian Slave.
The first autobiography of an enslaved Black woman, the book is considered to have been instrumental in helping dismantle slavery throughout the British Empire. Bermuda celebrates Mary Prince Day next Friday, July 30.
“When Mary Prince Day was announced by the government last year, I thought I’d look a little bit more into it,” said Mr Morrison, a Canadian actuary who has lived in Bermuda for 18 years.
“I read her memoir and got the idea for a song.”
He knew exactly where to take it, having previously worked with John Woolridge at Just Platinum Recording studios.
“To me it was an opportunity to write music, that’s what I do as an amateur, but also it was an opportunity for me to give back in some small way to Bermuda. I’m a Canadian citizen, I’ve been here for 18 years and I love the country.
“Chinyere Nwasike, she did a wonderful job on the vocals. The background singers were excellent. John is an incredible producer. He’s very, very good at what he does. His brother Wenty Woolridge – he’s an amazing bass player – so it was all a team effort from the time I wrote and did the music and talked to John about it and developed a plan for it.”
Mr Morrison began playing the acoustic guitar when he “was a kid”. About eight years ago he started writing and recording his own music.
“You can do that these days with recording equipment in the basement and things like that in a way you never could before,” he said. “I have a few Bermuda-themed songs, because that kind of gives me some focus on my writing. I’m very much an amateur, enjoying the process of writing music and playing for those songs myself.
“I hadn’t heard of Mary Prince until I got to Bermuda and then when [it was announced] we were going to have a Mary Prince Day I got a little bit more interested in [her] story so I went online and I saw her memoirs and I read them. The first line of the memoir, I think, if I recall correctly, was: I was born in brackish pond. And I thought …. that would be a good opening line for a song.”
His song makes ‘direct references” to Mary Prince’s memoir and also draws attention to Emancipation Day, which this year will be celebrated on July 29.
“The idea behind it is to draw awareness to Mary Prince,” Mr Morrison said. “And then the final part of the song is celebrating Mary Prince Day. So the message is here’s what Mary Prince went through – the awful things about being a slave and slavery. And then the other part is kind of: let’s look to the future and come together and celebrate emancipation and Mary Prince Day.”
Backing Ms Nwasike were vocalists Latosha Codrington, Samantha Smith, Jeantia Cymone and Shadunte Tucker. Wentworth Woolridge played the electric guitar and bass and his brother John, played electric and acoustic guitar.
Mr Morrison, who also played the acoustic guitar for the piece, said he was fortunate he was able to draw on Mr Woolridge’s network when it came time to select singers for the project.
“Certain voices are more appropriate than other voices in a song,” he said. “There wasn’t much of an audition process. But [we did have] people come in and see if they were interested in the project and if their voice kind of fit. And that’s something that John does very well.
“It is very hard for oneself to determine the quality of any of the work you’re involved in. But I’m very pleased – because of who’s involved – that it turned out the way we all wanted it to. I think it was a great effort and enjoyable to do.”
As for his next move, Mr Morrison intends to keep on writing.
“I do have a couple other Bermuda songs and I would like to use local Bermuda artists,” he said. “I can sing them myself but my voice isn’t that great. Especially for young people, it would be nice to give them some exposure by singing these songs if they’re interested. That’s really what I want to do.”