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Officially an icon - Sutherland remembers blue dress from Tastee contest in 1979

Published:Friday | March 16, 2018 | 12:00 AMMel Cooke
Nadine Sutherland
Nadine Sutherland

The chirp of children's voices was a constant throughout a call to Nadine Sutherland on her birthday, last week Thursday.

In addition to the general Twitter well-wishers, some spoke directly to her there were some birthday wishes and a couple of queries in between The Sunday Gleaner talking to Sutherland about the Female Icon Award she accepted at the Jamaica Reggae Industry Association Honour Awards in late February. At the Courtleigh Auditorium, New Kingston, then, Sutherland spoke about the blue dress 'Miss Bev' got her that she wore while winning the Tastee Talent Contest in 1979 and credited the strength of her father, nicknamed 'Stone'.

There is a direct connection between that blue-dress moment and Sutherland's involvement in directing the performing arts programme at a charter school in New York, USA, even as she makes it clear, "I live in Jamaica, I work in New York... I was asked to do this because I was a child star and also because of my role on Rising Stars." Sutherland was the forthright yet gentle voice of the trio, which included the no-nonsense Anthony Miller and incisive Clyde McKenzie. Those competencies and experiences combined with the master's degree in cultural studies that Sutherland completed in 2016 to prompt the invitation.

However, it was not until a conversation with Beenie Man last summer at last year's Rototom Sunsplash Festival in Benicassim, Spain, that Sutherland understood how the girl in the blue dress her mother bought from the salesman from Kingston who would travel through districts came to occupy her peculiar position among her peers. Having won Tastee and then had a connection with Bob Marley through the song, Starvation on the Land, as well as attending the St Andrew High School for Girls, without her comprehension, she was tagged an 'uptowner'. In addition, Sutherland was in the media spotlight earlier than many of her peers.

Added to those factors were the ones she was exposed to during the master's programme, when the history and structure of social class - including its connection to complexion - was detailed. Apart from that appreciation, Sutherland said that she was very happy about doing the postgraduate degree. "You look at yourself, and you go about challenging yourself. You sing, and that does not mean you can't be smart. It is something I have struggled with in Jamaica, with the class thing how people see a reggae artiste. It was important to me to step out of the confines of how people see you as a reggae performer," Sutherland said. There is another way in which being a performer was related or, in a backhanded way, not related to her studying at the University of the West Indies , Mona campus.


Dislike of being judged


"I don't like when people judge me, say 'you are Nadine Sutherland'," she said in expressing resentment at any notion that things are handed to her on a silver platter. That does not apply to the academic process, Sutherland stressing, "I worked hard for it."

As she was notified beforehand, the Female Icon Award did not surprise Sutherland, although, when the clip of her performing in the blue dress nearly 40 years ago was shown, the emotional impact took away all the quips she had thought of delivering.

"I did not have a speech prepared. I wanted it to be very authentic," she said. Sutherland has no doubts about deserving the award and also tells The Sunday Gleaner that looking at the overall picture of her life, it has been very good.

The Sunday Gleaner asks Sutherland which period of her music career is her favourite from pre-teen national talent contest winner, teen star, dancehall donette with Action, reggae rocker with Babyface, waxing philosophical with Karma', the deep dub of In A Me Blood, and more. The answer is that there is none as the favourite moments are still unfolding.

As is the birthday; Sutherland observed the occasion in a chilly New York but is waiting to get on a plane to really live it up.

"My celebration begins when I come home," she said.