Dr. the Hon. Olive Lewin: One of Jamaica’s Most Prominent Cultural Icons

On April 10, 2013, the eyes of one of Jamaica’s well renowned author, social anthropologist, musicologist, teacher, actress, folk researcher closed. The daughter of Sylvia and Richard Lewin, educators’ Olive Willhelmina Mahoney Lewin was born in the parish of Clarendon in a district called Vere, on September 27, 1927. She was educated at the Hayes Elementary School, Hampton School, and then went on to the Royal Academy of Music where she studied music and ethnomusicology. Olive Lewin was one of Jamaica’s most recognizable researchers. She gained recognition for her many works  and interviews which she conducted on Jamaica’s oral histories, songs, African retentions and religious practices.

 She founded the Jamaica Memory Bank, the Jamaica Youth Orchestra, and the Jamaican Folk Singers.  She also worked assiduously to preserve Jamaica’s folk history and spearhead the Jamaica Memory Bank Project in the 1980s. The Jamaica Memory Bank became assimilated into the work of the African Caribbean Institute of Jamaica in 1990. Her association with the ACIJ/JMB was renewed when in 2003, she chaired a national committee that prepared a Candidature File to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to have the Musical Heritage of the Moore Town Maroons declared a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Humanity.

Dr Lewin has authored several books, articles and has made numerous recordings of Jamaican folk music some. Notable among these are Rock it Come Over: the folk Music of Jamaica, Mento, Brown Gal in the Ring: 12 Jamaican Folk Songs Collected and Arranged for School, Timeless truths from humblest hearts, Come Mek Me Hol Yuh Han- The impact of Tourism on Traditional Music (Collection of papers presented), Dandy Shandy: 12 Folk-songs for children, Some Jamaican Folk Songs, Forty Folk Songs of Jamaica, Dandy Shandy: 12 Folk-songs for children, Alle, Alle, Alle: 12 Jamaican Folk Songs, and  Beeny Budd: 12 Jamaican Folk-songs for Children.

Over the years, Dr. Lewin received many awards in recognition of her pioneering work including the Sliver Musgrave Medal for folk music 1970, the Centenary Musgrave Medal in 1981, the Gold Musgrave Medal for her contribution to music from the Institute of Jamaica in 1987, the CPTC’s Cultural Medal of Honour for her outstanding contribution and preserving Jamaica’s folk culture in 2010, and the Order of Jamaica (OJ) and Commander of the Oder of Distinction (CD) from the Government of Jamaica.


Lewin, Olive. Forty Folk Songs of Jamaica. Washington: General Secretariat of the Organization

      Of American States, 1973.

—.The Jamaica Directory of Personalities 2007-2008.  9th ed. Kingston: Selectco Publications

    Ltd., 1983.

—.The Jamaica Memory Bank Newsletter 1:4 (1988): 1